AUSTIN (KXAN) – A complaint against Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell has bounced around the county for nearly two months as elected officials have worked to decide what to do with the investigation. That complaint has now landed on the desk of the highest court in Texas.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht will make the decision that could lead to the complaint finally being investigated. Hecht got the Gravell complaint after multiple judges recused themselves from involvement in the Gravell investigation.
Georgetown attorney Robert McCabe filed the complaint against Judge Bill Gravell on April 13. The complaint accused Gravell of violating his own stay-at-home order—a misdemeanor—and of official oppression and abuse of official capacity.
The complaint came after a Williamson County taxpayer spotted Gravell attending a family member’s birthday party on April 7. Photographs of Gravell and his wife appeared on a Twitter account belonging to “Buddy Falcon” within hours of the party. Gravell was wearing a fireman’s bunker gear and breathing equipment the judge borrowed from the county’s fire department in Jarrell.
The photographs show Gravell standing outside his pickup truck wearing the publicly-owned fire equipment. Chief Mark McAdams told KXAN Gravell wanted the fire equipment in order to protect his grandson from potential exposure to the coronavirus during the judge’s visit to the party.
Gravell’s wife, who is standing beside him in the photographs, is not wearing any protective equipment.
At the time, anyone who lived in—or visited—Williamson County was banned from visits such as this, according to the order Gravell extended the day he attended the birthday party. The Gravell order included a fine or up to 180 days in jail for violating the order.
The complaint accused Gravell of using the power of his office to borrow the fire gear to attend the party. The chief told KXAN he would not have allowed any member of the public to use the department’s fire equipment for personal use but admitted to allowing Gravell to do so.
A move the chief told KXAN he later regretted.
The criminal complaint was filed with Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs’ office where it stayed for weeks. Hobbs was trying to decide whether to assign the complaint to another county district attorney’s office or to investigate the complaint himself, according to Jason Nassour, an Austin attorney who works as Hobbs’ general counsel.
Sometime after May 1, Hobbs sent the complaint to Williamson County District Judge Stacey Mathews to have Mathews assign a special prosecutor to the case, according to Nassour. Hobbs never recused himself, Nassour told KXAN, but since Hobbs’ office was involved in advising Gravell in crafting the stay-at-home order, Hobbs decided to not investigate the matter.
Judge Mathews later recused herself from any involvement in the case and forwarded the Gravell complaint to an administrative judge who oversees Mathews’ judicial district. Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, the presiding judge of Texas’ Third Judicial Region, later recused himself in the Gravell matter and sent the criminal complaint to the Texas Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court confirmed receiving the Gravell complaint and is awaiting Chief Justice Nathan Hecht’s decision on appointment of a district court judge who would assign a prosecutor pro tem to have the case investigated.
That prosecutor would determine whether charges would be brought against Gravell.
The complaint also alleges a Williamson County deputy drove Gravell to the fire station, then to the birthday party on April 7. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody would not answer questions regarding whether the deputy was on duty at the time, whether that deputy was being investigated or what purpose a deputy would be assigned to escort Gravell.
“The sheriff’s department determines what Law Enforcement services are necessary and when they are necessary,” Sheriff Robert Chody wrote in an April 13 email to KXAN. “I will not respond on matters of security involving anybody as a matter of protocol.”
Chody, who is often criticized by the “Buddy Falcon” Twitter account, took issue with a the reporting related to an interview with the person running the Twitter account and the use of the pictures of Gravell posted by the account, “Lastly Mr. Barr, let’s be fair. Please consider your sources more responsibly in the future as each have and have had an agenda for sometime [sic],” Chody wrote in an email.
When asked if Chody found any inaccuracies in the reporting or from the “Buddy Falcon” account, the sheriff could not provide an example of any inaccuracies, ”If you want to know what’s inaccurate in your story. Contact the County Attorney or District Attorney to determine and ask if an actual violation of the order occurred or if any law was broken as your story states.”
THE GRAVELL CALL
The pictures of Gravell at the birthday party were posted to Twitter at 2:52 p.m. on April 7. An hour and 10 minutes later, Gravell sent the Buddy Falcon account a message, asking the unnamed account owner to take the pictures down.
“That is a picture of my daughter’s home and my grandson. Please remove it from your page. You can come after me but this picture is out of line!” Gravell wrote in the message. The message was provided to KXAN by the account’s owner who asked that we conceal their identity.
At 3:32 p.m., McCabe posted a reply to the Buddy Falcon tweet, accusing Gravell of abusing his power by using taxpayer-owned equipment to attend the birthday party. Just 22 minutes later, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick called McCabe, telling him Gravell was on the line demanding to speak with him and that it was “an emergency.”
The emergency, according to McCabe, was Gravell’s demands to remove the tweets from the Buddy Falcon account, “The emergency was that Bill Gravell needed to reach me about was these Twitter photos,” McCabe said. The three spent a few minutes on the phone, according to McCabe, and in the call Gravell asked McCabe to have the photographs removed from the Buddy Falcon social media accounts.
“I think he believed that I had some influence over the Buddy Falcon account or whoever those people are that run those accounts and that I could have them taken down. And, I immediately made it clear that I have no control over those photographs, I did not take the photographs and that I would do nothing to help them,” McCabe said.
McCabe said someone told him that Gravell originally planned to have firefighters from the Jarrell fire station drive by his grandson’s house at 11 a.m. with Gravell on the back of one of the trucks dressed as a fireman. McCabe said he planned to have someone go by to photograph Gravell because McCabe believed the county judge was about to commit a crime.
Plans to use the fire trucks did not go through, according to Chief McAdams. McCabe said McAdams did nothing wrong and was put into a “tough position” by his boss, Judge Gravell.
McCabe said Gravell admitted to “criminal conduct” in the call. That position was supported by Dick’s decision to immediately recuse himself from the case, telling KXAN he couldn’t discuss the details of the case because he’s now “A potential witness in this conduct” after the April 7 phone call.
Dick said he also filed a criminal referral with Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs detailing Gravell’s actions following the phone call.
Judge Gravell never responded to KXAN emails, messages and phone calls sent to his office and to his social media accounts.