Gravell addresses social media controversy
By Mike Eddleman
It came with a dollar figure that would often go unnoticed in a budget of more than $300 million, but County Judge Bill Gravell’s motion to add $5,000 to the budget for respectful workplace training came with a larger message.
Gravell used the item as a jumping off point in addressing the controversy surrounding Williamson County Sheriff’s Office Commander Steve Deaton, who has reprimanded earlier this year for inappropriate comments made to a female reality television show producer from “Live PD”. A number of Facebook posts by Deaton had also surfaced from 2018 depicting inappropriate treatment of women and violence toward a black football player.
Both Gravell and Sheriff Robert Chody had liked at least one of the posts on Facebook before they were removed. Since the posts were made public, county officials had been largely silent, until Gravell spoke Aug. 15 during a budget meeting.
“I’ve been silent for 15 days about the actions of a commander at our sheriff’s office,” Gravell said. “I want to make this unequivocally clear, I liked a social media post that was inappropriate and I made a mistake because I didn’t look at the whole image. As your County Judge I own that.”
He rebuffed calls for him to resign, and reminded the public that the Commissioners Court has no authority over the issue.
“But also as your County Judge I want to say this, regardless of the requests from a few citizens I’m not resigning from public office,” he said. “Today I’m leading. I’ve been thoughtful, I’ve been patient, I’ve been kind, (allowing) for the sheriff and his team to resolve this matter over which this court has no authority or power over.”
The respectful workplace training initiative is one way Gravell hopes to create something positive from the situation.
“Today I will be taking steps to make sure all of the employees we do have power and authority over understand that there is no tolerance in the workplace for mistreating ladies,” Gravell said. “What Commander Deaton did, and said about the producer of Live PD was inappropriate, it was wrong, and it was immoral. We have no place for that in Williamson County.”
Despite having no authority over issues in the Sheriff’s Department, Gravell didn’t hesitate to call out Deaton for his actions.
“The culprit here is not the sheriff. The problem is not the county judge. The problem is Commander Steve Deaton,” Gravell said. “As the Williamson County Judge, today I call on Commander Steve Deaton, if you have any semblance of integrity left, to resign and step down from your position. You are an embarrassment to Williamson County and you are a disgrace to our sheriff’s office.”
In a Twitter response to questions from The Independent, Sheriff Robert Chody said he was not present when Gravell made his comments and he could not comment on them, but provided a short statement
“Eight months ago the matter was dealt with according to our policy,” Chody said in his message. “The same discipline (oral reprimand) was issued to (Deaton) as with the K-9 unit just prior to this event when it first developed eight months ago when two deputies were terminated for dishonesty reference a text thread where homophobic and other vile comments were made on cell phones that were deemed subject to open records by the attorney generals office. The two deputies Aaron Skinner and Jeremy Stewart are no longer employed with us. I have worked diligently with our legal department to deal with this matter in the best appropriate way that some agree and some disagree with.”
He added that policies have since been updated to better address such issues in the future.
“We have since introduced a new more restrictive policy to ensure this doesn’t occur again,” Chody wrote. “This was completed by legal on Monday and distributed to all employees (the) same day.”
There has been some disagreement between members of the Commissioners Court about whether the County should continue its contract with the Live PD reality show. The question is on the agenda for discussion again for the Aug. 19 meeting where ending the contract will be considered.