Criminal complaint filed against Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell after stay-at-home order violation

Investigations

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – A criminal complaint against Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell is on its way to the county attorney’s office. The complaint details allegations of multiple criminal offenses Gravell is accused of connected to an April 7 birthday party Gravell attended.

Georgetown attorney Robert McCabe filed the complaint with the district attorney via email Monday.

Georgetown attorney Robert McCabe points to a Tweet that led to the phone call between him, the county district attorney and Judge Bill Gravell on April 7, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

The party was for Gravell’s grandson and photographs of Gravell attending the party were posted to social media within hours of the party last week. Gravell was wearing firefighting equipment at the boy’s party. The photographs were attached to the complaint.

Gravell attended the party while the rest of Williamson County citizens were locked down in their homes under the threat of fines and jail time if they left home for anything other than “essential business.”

“While not engaged in official county business,” McCabe wrote in the complaint that Gravell, “Had a sheriff’s deputy drive he (Gravell) and his wife to the Jarrell Fire Department (AKA Williamson County ESD #5) where he obtained firefighter ‘bunker gear’and a respirator which he then dressed in. Gravell then had the deputy drive he and his wife to his daughter’s … home in Jarrell for the sole purpose to attend his grandson’s birthday party.”

The photographs of Gravell at the party were posted to a Twitter account known as “Buddy Falcon.” McCabe posted a comment on the posting, pointing out his belief that Gravell had committed a crime by obtaining taxpayer-owned fire gear for personal use.

Within 22 minutes of McCabe posting the comment, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick was on the other end of the phone telling McCabe that Gravell was looking for him. McCabe told KXAN in an interview last week that Dick did not know why Gravell was looking for him.

“He relayed that Gravell was holding on the other line and that it was an emergency that he reach me.  Dick was concerned about the urgency of the call and opined that it must be related to a COVID-19 situation.  I assured Dick that I was confident it was related to the Twitter post referenced above and asked that Dick bring Gravell into the call. Prior to me relaying that information to Dick, it was apparent Dick had no knowledge of any Twitter post,” McCabe wrote in the complaint.

This Tweet from the “Buddy Falcon” account shows Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell attending his grandson’s birthday party on April 7, 2020 while the county was under orders to shelter in place. A violation of this order is punishable by a fine of $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

“We then engaged in a 3-way conversation with Gravell and I speaking and Dick listening and not engaging with either of us during our brief exchange,” McCabe wrote in the complaint.

“Gravell asked that I remove the Twitter photographs posted by ‘Buddy Falcon’ referenced above. I informed Gravell that I had no control over “Buddy Falcon” posts, that I did not take the photographs and that I did not have a way to remove them. Gravell stated that if I had a problem with he or Williamson County Sheriff Chody that I could take it up with them but he needed his daughter and other family left out of it,” McCabe wrote in the complaint detailing the call.

McCabe told KXAN last week that Gravell admitted to violating at least two state laws in the call—even while the county’s top-prosecutor was listening in on the line.

“He stated that he was fully aware Dick was on the phone, and knew full well that he could be prosecuted for his misconduct, that he had a deputy drive him and his wife to the Jarrell Fire Department where he then borrowed bunker gear, dressed up and had the deputy drive him to his grandson’s birthday party so he could surprise him because he had not seen him in some weeks,” McCabe wrote. “Gravell asked again if I could take action to remove the photographs posted by ‘Buddy Falcon.’ I declined and told him that people are missing funerals, re-scheduling weddings and have been unable to see their loved ones due to the stay at home orders, that he was not above anyone else and that I did not appreciate his ‘do as I say, not as I do’ action, that what he did was “bulls—” and that I was not interested in helping him in any way.”

Gravell hung up at that point, according to McCabe.

Accused of crimes

In the complaint McCabe filed Monday, he accused Judge Gravell of committing misdemeanor — and potentially felony-level crimes related to using taxpayer-owned equipment for personal use.

McCabe detailed three criminal offenses and the alleged facts for the crimes he believed Gravell committed:

1. Abuse of Official Capacity

“Gravell used his position as County Judge to misuse government property from the Jarrell Fire Department to dress-up to surprise his grandson for a birthday party. That equipment was out of service while being used by Gravell.  The property must be re-sanitized before being placed back into service for official use. This will result in an expense.”

“Gravell used his position as County Judge to misuse government personnel by having a sheriff’s deputy drive he and his wife to the Jarrell Fire Department and onward to the birthday party. This was for a non-official purpose. The deputy was presumably being paid for his services by the taxpayers and not by Gravell personally.”

2. Official Oppression

“Gravell used his position as County Judge to subject the sheriff’s deputy driver to mistreatment, namely, by unnecessarily exposing that deputy to health risks during the COVID-19 emergency, by having that deputy drive him to the Jarrell Fire Department and onward to his grandson’s birthday party for a non-official purpose.”

3. Violation of Emergency Management Plan

“Gravell was not engaged in official county business as an essential employee when he violated the ‘stay at home’ orders in place at the time he attended the birthday party on April 7, 2020.”

Dick told KXAN last week he would typically have shared jurisdiction over the investigation and prosecution of this matter, but since he was “a potential witness to the conduct” he heard on the phone call, he would not be able to be involved in the case.

Gravell, Dick and McCabe were on a three-way call on April 7, 2020, just hours after McCabe accused Gravell of using public property to help celebrate his grandson’s birthday and for violating his own order making visiting family members a criminal offense in Williamson County. (Credit: Williamson County Government/KXAN)

Dick would likely be called to testify about what Gravell said in the call if the investigation led to prosecution.

Dick released a statement to KXAN on Monday, corroborating details McCabe outlined in his April 13 complaint and saying he wasn’t initially aware of what the call was about.

“Judge Gravell informed me that they had been urgently trying to get ahold of a local defense attorney Robert McCabe, and had been trying to call his work related numbers and had been unable to connect with Mr. McCabe.  Judge Gravell never told me what the urgent matter was, however, based on my knowledge of the critical operations and Judge Gravell’s involvement at the Williamson County Emergency Services Operations Center, I believed that Mr. McCabe or one of his clients may have been exposed to the Coronavirus.”

“In an effort to help,” Dick said he called McCabe’s personal cell phone.

“I contacted Robert McCabe’s personal cell phone number at 3:54 p.m. and asked if he wanted to talk with Judge Gravell, assuming that either he, or a client, had somehow been exposed to the virus.  Mr. McCabe agreed to the three-way phone call,” Dick wrote in a statement to KXAN.

“I have unfortunately been placed in the position of being a witness in this case, and therefore my office is ethically conflicted out of handling the prosecution.  I have made a referral to Mr. Hobbs our County Attorney for his consideration, and anticipate forwarding Mr. McCabe’s written complaint to Mr. Hobbs as soon as I receive it,” Dick wrote.

The Gravell order exemptions

The Gravell Stay Home Stay Safe order provides a criminal penalty for anyone in Williamson County who is found in public and isn’t performing “essential business” at the time they’re encountered by law enforcement.

A violator is subject to arrest, a $1,000 fine or 180 days in the county jail.

The only exemptions listed in the Gravell order are for: homeless, healthcare workers, government workers performing “Essential Governmental Functions” and daycare and childcare workers providing care for essential workers.

The order further defines “Essential Governmental Functions”:

For purposes of this Stay Home Stay Safe Order, all services provided by governmental entities needed to ensure the continuing operation of the governmental entities to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the public are categorically exempt from this Stay Home Stay Safe Order.

Judge Bill Gravell’s March 24, 2020 Stay Home Stay Safe order

The order does not contain language exempting the county judge from adhering to the mandates in the order.

The order also gives the authority for enforcement to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, all Williamson County Constables Offices, the county fire marshal and “other licensed peace officers are hereby authorized to enforce this order.”

Gravell admitted in the phone call that a Williamson County Sheriff’s deputy drove him to Jarrell to pick up the firefighter equipment, then drive Gravell to his grandson’s birthday party, according to McCabe. The truck Gravell was photographed getting out of was not a marked Williamson County Sheriff’s Department vehicle.

In a series of emails between Sheriff Chody and KXAN on Monday, Chody would not give specifics when asked about the reasons a deputy would be assigned to Gravell.

The Judge Bill Gravell Stay Home Stay Safe order details the criminal penalties for anyone caught violating the March 24, 2020 order issued in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Texas.

“The sheriff’s department determines what Law Enforcement services are necessary and when they are necessary,” Chody wrote when asked to specify the purpose of assigning a deputy to escort Gravell.

“I will not respond on matters of security involving anybody as a matter of protocol. I’ll give you one such Example, if a threat is made on a judge, leader of our community, or just anybody in general, I would not relay the information unless it was necessary as a matter of security protection of all involved. That’s not a new concept,” Chody wrote.

The sheriff also criticized the KXAN investigation into Gravell, “Lastly Mr. Barr, let’s be fair, “Chody wrote in an April 13 email, “Please consider your sources more responsibly in the future as each have and have had an agenda for sometime (sic).”

Chody’s been a target of the Buddy Falcon social media pages for more than a year. The account has posted information critical of Chody’s administration of the sheriff’s office.

When asked if Chody found any factual errors or inaccuracies in the reporting, the sheriff could not provide an example.

“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 sheriff wrote.

Judge Gravell did not respond to messages left for him at his county office or to his social media accounts. A new message left for Gravell with his county office administrator on Monday has not been returned.

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