Williamson County, TX – A judge had been charged with a misdemeanor after he threatened the county’s law enforcement budget if the sheriff didn’t stop tweeting.
As county judge, 76-year-old Dan Gattis has been the chief executive officer of Williamson County since 2007, KXAN reported.
Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was voted into office 18 months ago and has since built a Twitter following of more than 10,000 people by tweeting about road closures and high-profile arrests.
Sheriff Chody has also shared pictures of deputies and police K9s, at work and at play, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
But officials said some of the sheriff’s more recent tweets about the management of county government offended Gattis, and as a result, he threatened to strip funding from the sheriff’s office.
On Tuesday, Gattis told Williamson County Chief Deputy Tim Ryle to tell the sheriff to quit tweeting or his budget would be “zeroed.”
“He stuck his finger in my chest — he didn’t actually touch me — and said, ‘Tell that sheriff if he doesn’t quit tweeting, I’m going zero his budget out,’” Deputy Ryle told the American-Statesman on Wednesday. “My comment to him was, ‘Judge, are you sure you want to say that?’ He said, ‘Yes, tell him to stop tweeting about me and my people.”
Deputy Ryle, a 40-year veteran of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, said the judge threatened him “right there in the courtroom in front of God and everybody.”
Sheriff Chody recently tweeted about a raw sewage leak that had gone unrepaired between the jail and the court building.
The sheriff has butted heads with the Commissioners Court over the sheriff’s department’s budget in the past.
Deputy Ryle told the commissioners that the department was understaffed and asked for $140,000 in overtime pay for deputies in July of 2017, but the commissioners only granted the department $60,000, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
On July 13, the sheriff tweeted “Demands of the Wilco Sheriff’s Office are not only growing due to population growth but were poorly maintained by past admin and other factors. This budget year staffing is our # 1 priority. We are short personal (sic) and cant maintain this pace without relief for long.”
Sheriff Chody told KXAN the comments were an infringement of his right to free speech but “more importantly, he’s talking about the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.”
“We’re at a dire need to properly fund and properly staff [our department],” the sheriff said.
He said the judge’s threat on threw the entire game plan for the sheriff’s department’s budget into chaos.
“It concerns me because now I wonder, ‘Is this something he’s going to try to sabotage behind the scenes?” Sheriff Chody asked KXAN.
“For the past year and a half, I’ve been more transparent than Williamson County has ever been as far as the sheriff’s office,” the sheriff said. “They know about my family life, they know about our K9s, they know about the lives that officers are saving inside the jail when inmates are trying to harm themselves… We’re humanizing the badge.”
“For the CEO of this county to tell me to stop tweeting because he doesn’t like a negative comment — or what he perceives as a negative comment — is out of line, and against the law, as he said it,” Sheriff Chody told KXAX, saying he was shocked by the threat.
On Wednesday, law enforcement officials issued a summons for Gattis to appear in state District Court, in lieu of being arrested, to face a misdemeanor official oppression charge, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
The charge could potentially carry a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail if the judge is found guilty.
Gattis, who has been county judge for 11 years, will be retiring at the end of his term, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“It demonstrates the mentality that me and some fellow elected officials have been dealing with,” Sheriff Chody said. “I am surprised that it would be escalated to a threat. That is the environment that has been set up by some leaders in this county.”