Williamson Co. didn’t pursue charges over repair of sheriff’s personal ATV paid for by taxpayers

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TX (KXAN) — A former Williamson County Sheriff’s Office detective opened a one-man criminal investigation into his boss, Sheriff Robert Chody, back in February — a few months later, that detective was no longer a member of the sheriff’s office.

The former detective, Brian Johns, was a member of the sheriff’s organized crime unit until he was fired in July. Johns was assigned to a “regional” automobile theft task force at the time.

Johns filed a lawsuit against the county last week, accusing the sheriff of retaliating against him for investigating what Johns believed were criminal acts involving the sheriff’s private property.

According to the lawsuit, Johns believed he was watching his boss abusing his power and the tax dollars entrusted to the sheriff’s office, so he started documenting what was going on at the county impound yard.

Johns’ investigation centered on a Polaris Razor four-seater side-by-side all-terrain vehicle — a vehicle that starts at $20,000-plus, according to the Polaris website. Johns said he knew the ATV belonged to Chody as he had seen him using the ATV at “political events” in the past.

On April 12, Sheriff Robert Chody posted this picture to Twitter of his personal ATV sitting inside the county’s impound garage; the same garage where a county employee performed mechanic work on this ATV. (Credit: Robert Chody via Twitter)

Johns became suspicious after he saw a county employee performing mechanic work on the vehicle in February.

Johns’ attorney provided KXAN a 32-page document containing dozens of pictures of the ATV sitting inside the county’s impound garage over several days in February. Johns typed out a log detailing what he saw and the date and time he saw it. The log includes multiple entries between Feb. 11, 2019 and May 6, 2019.  

The former automobile theft detective had suspicions taxpayers were paying to store and maintain the sheriff’s private property. Turns out, the detective’s suspicions were correct.

THE COUNTY’S INVESTIGATION

Johns said he found out from county Impound Manager David Lewis that tax dollars were used to purchase the battery and kill switch for Chody’s ATV, according to Johns’ notes. Lewis justified the purchase, according to Johns, by explaining that Chody used the ATV “for parades and departmental functions,” according to the former detective’s investigative log.

Lewis also confirmed to Johns the ATV was having “battery charging issues” as the reason Chody’s ATV was inside the impound garage.

The former detective snapped this picture of a county employee working on the light bar on the sheriff’s ATV. This picture was included in the evidence the detective turned over to the county in May. (Credit: Brian Johns)

Johns’ photographs included images of a county mechanic working on what appears to be a police light bar on top of the ATV. Johns also photographed the new battery the county purchased for Chody’s ATV and he included that in the evidence collected on his boss.

Within weeks of seeing the county’s fleet manager installing a new battery and “kill switch” on Chody’s ATV, Johns took his evidence and reported what he’d found to the Texas Rangers, according to the lawsuit. The Rangers “refused to get involved,” the lawsuit states.

On May 10, Johns and his attorney, Robert McCabe, met with Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs. During the meeting, Johns gave his typed log to Hobbs and allegations Chody committed the offense of Abuse of Official Capacity.

Hobbs wrote in a June 4 letter to Johns’ attorney that he’d “reviewed the allegations, researched Texas Ethics Opinions, Texas Attorney General Opinions, performed caselaw research into this issue, and sought validation for several fact specific portions” of the allegations Johns made.

Hobbs ended his investigation, confirming each detail Johns’ provided in his investigative log and the batch of photographs the former detective took. Hobbs also told Johns, “This matter will not be investigated by the Texas Rangers.”

“No further action will be taken by this office because there is no proven intent on the part of Sheriff Chody to obtain a personal benefit,” Hobbs wrote in the June 4 letter to Johns. “Sheriff Chody has not used the items for personal benefit or enjoyment,” since the county performed the work on Chody’s ATV, Hobbs wrote in the letter.

“No benefit has been obtained by Sheriff Chody regarding his personal use of these items. Furthermore, the items have been used for a public purpose since being stored on county property and since the work was performed on the ATV/UTV,” Hobbs wrote.

“Therefore, the only benefit has been to the county for public purpose and not to Sheriff Chody for personal gain,” Hobbs wrote in closing his letter.

Hobbs sent a similar letter to Chody.

KXAN requested interviews with both the county and with Sheriff Chody. Neither would agree to be interviewed. The county has not yet filed an answer to the lawsuit.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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