WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE K9 UNIT?

WilCo K9 Unit Timeline Overview:

1/15/2019- Sheriff Chody sends an email to all K9 handlers that says: “Hey folks! Loving all your pics and videos on social media. Do ur account but I don’t only want your leftover photos and videos. Share the love. I’m running out of pics. The remaining two weeks we may do something different if things don’t change.

The following week, a text message is sent out to the K9 handlers stating Sheriff Chody is still not happy with the pictures he is receiving and that no one is to post to their social media accounts without having him “first dibs” on the photos. They are also told to stop sharing their photos with other people or organizations before he sees them. This applied to all photos, even personal ones. They were also all ordered to send at least 2 pictures to Sheriff Chody every day, regardless if they are working or on vacation. It is made clear that if this does not start happening the K9 Sgt would be forced to start keeping a formal record of the photos submitted.

While all of this was going on the Sheriff required, at least once a week, the deputies participating in Live PD (and almost all of K9) were required to report to photoshoots for the SO to promote Live PD. This was required even if the deputy was not working or had worked all night. They were still required to participate.

3/5/2019: Internal listing for “Deputy Sheriff K9 Handler” was sent via email to all deputies. When handlers asked about the listing he was told the Sheriff just wanted to see if anyone in the agencies was interested in being K9 and was considering growing the unit.

3/6/2019: Sheriff Chody sends a text message at 11:11am to all K9 handlers (on their private cell phones) stating he needs all of the K9 Twitter accounts registered with their county emails and send pass all passwords to Patti (PIO). Chody stated: “If you do not register your account with your county email and confirm it with Patty. This includes the username and password, we will be forced to start deactivating accounts and that is not what I want, I hope it is not what you want.” Going forward all accounts and direct messages were being monitored.

3/11/2019: The entire K9 unit was ordered to stop tweeting original content. All photos and videos had to be sent to the Sheriff for his use. They were allowed to Retweet his content.

3/11/2019: Sara Cole sent text messages privately to several members of the K9 unit stating Gary Hasting was at Dr. Daigel’s office. Dr. Daigle is the veterinarian who cares for all of the County K9s and several other departments K9s. Incidentally, Daigle made a $7500 to Chody’s 2020 re-election campaign.

3/12/2019: Commander Steve Deaton sent an email to the entire K9 unit stating no one was to use any of their social media accounts to post pictures of their dogs or anything related to the SO. The email read:

All,

Until further notice no one is to utilize personal social media accounts to post anything in reference to the WCSO K9 program.  This includes any posts or pictures referencing the WCSO service animals etc…  There will be a new process going forward, until it is announced all posts and pictures will utilize the sheriff’s accounts only and solely at his discretion.

Stephen Deaton, Commander

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3/12/2019: Jeremy Stewart was ordered to turn in K9 Bolo. Bolo was immediately placed in a kennel at the vet’s office. The Sheriff’s Office then officially adopted Bolo. Stewart was caught off guard and as very surprised given he had recently certified with K9 Bolo. Bolo was a single purpose Narcotics Detection dog and the Sheriff had him doing local and national press appearances with Bolo, the county’s first rescue K9.

(By way of background, up until this point, Jeremy Stewart had been housing and caring for Bolo since the day he was removed from the county animal shelter. Bolo had several behavioral issues and was dog aggressive when Stewart agreed to foster him. Stewart believed in Bolo and the K9 unit so much, he and his family were willing to go above and beyond and do whatever it took to make K9 Bolo successful for the SO.)

3/13/2019: Jeremy Stewart was fired from the Sheriff’s office without being given a formal reason. We will allow Jeremy Stewart to share the details of this event when he sees fit. He was also given a Dishonorable Discharge on his F5, which was overturned in August because the SO did not contest it or even bother to send a representative to the hearing.

It is important to note that Jeremy Stewart was unable to seek employment in LE until the conditions of the discharge on the F5 were changed. Jeremy Stewart is a US Army Special Forces veteran and has been in Law Enforcement ever since leaving the Army.

3/14/2019: Aaron Skinner has K9 Axel taken from him and was fired. (Please see Aaron Skinner’s full statement for details)

3/14/2019: Sgt Brian Dirner was demoted back to Detective and removed from the K9 unit. He was allowed to keep K9 Nemo as long as he continued to train the K9 unit for the SO. He worked in the Interdiction Unit with Nemo yet continued to train the K9 unit he was removed from. He was also told he and Nemo would continue to appear on Live PD and not say anything about not being in the K9 unit.

(By way of background, Brian Dirner has over 20 years’ experience working with K9s. He is a USMC veteran and was one of the main K9 handlers for Black Water in Afghanistan. Detective Dirner served many years in combat zones and his experience and skill show this. In fact, his K9 from Afghanistan returned to the SO with him and worked for the SO until his death. His name was K9 Big Fuzz. There have been several scholarly journal articles that discuss K9 Big Fuzz’s amazing work while deployed and at the SO. Dirner is an invaluable asset to the SO yet is still punished. Brian Dirner is 1.5 years away from retirement and also has a wife and children)

3/15/2019: The remaining members of the K9 unit (Jeremy Jones, Sara Cole, Mark Bell, Charles Duvall and Derrick Johnson) received an email from Commander Tim Ryle ordering them to turn over their personal cell phone text messages. More specifically the group K9 text thread.

3/20/2019: Deputy Jeremy Jones received a phone call at home and was told to report to the SO with K9 Drago immediately. Upon his arrival, K9 Drago was taken from Jones, and Jones was told to report to Patrol because he was no longer a member of the K9 unit. No formal reason was provided to Jeremy Jones. Needing his job, he did what he was ordered to do. We will allow Jeremy Jones to share his entire story with you when he is ready.

3/20/2019: Deputy Mark Bell and Deputy Charles Duvall received phone calls at their homes telling them to report to a meeting with Chief Ryle in the morning. They were also told to bring their K9s. No further information was given.

3/21/2019: Deputy Bell and Deputy Duvall reported to Chief Ryle’s office as instructed. They were both informed they were no longer members of the K9 unit and they were to surrender their K9s (Max and Kato) to the veterinarian’s office the following immediately. They were both told they had been moved to Patrol.

Deputy Duvall and Deputy Bell reported to the veterinarian’s office as ordered and surrendered K9 Kato and K9 Max. They were both immediately put in kennels like K9s Bolo, Axel and Drago. At this point almost the entire Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit were living in kennels. The only deputies that still had their K9s were Deputy Cole (Fuze), Deputy Johnson (Enzo) and Detective Dirner (Nemo).

3/21/2019: Several hours later Deputy Duvall sent a text message saying he got K9 Kato back. While it is not our place to share his entire story, he said he had gone to the SO and apologized for anything he may have done that led up to them taking Kato. He stated he would do whatever he needed to do to keep his dog. Kato was returned to Duvall after his apology.

3/21/2019: Upon his return home, Deputy Bell had to tell his 12-year-old daughter that K9 Max had been taken. As you can imagine this news was devastating to her. Deputy Bell had now heard that Kato was returned and hopeful he would be given Max back as well. However, he was not.

(By way of background, Deputy Mark Bell is a US Army combat veteran who volunteered to serve multiple tours to Afghanistan. After leaving the Army he went into Law Enforcement to continue his life of service. Deputy Bell was also a K9 handler at his previous agency and still cares for his now 12-year-old retired K9. As you may also be aware, Deputy Bell has been credited with saving several lives and other outstanding achievements according to Sheriff Chody. He is credited with saving the life of a corrections officer whose arm was severed during an automobile accident, as well as a 90-year-old missing man which he and his former K9 Max found after the SO had not been able to for 9 hours. Sheriff Chody also told us about how Deputy Bell found a young child wandering on the side of the road in the middle of the night. Chody told the press the child probably wouldn’t have survived if Deputy Bell had not found him. We can easily go on as the Sheriff has shared numerous stories of Deputy Bell’s heroism, but we think you get the idea.)

3/22/2019: Deputy Bell received a phone call stating Deputy Duvall would be coming over to his house to pick up K9 Max’s kennel. Please note this was unnecessary given all of the dogs were at the vet and Deputy Bell would be returning to work the following day and could return the kennel himself. However, it was made clear Deputy Duvall was coming over. A short while later six SO vehicles pulled up in front of Deputy Bell’s house, located on a quiet cul-de-sac in Georgetown. While not known at the time, the newly chosen K9 handlers were among the six. Luckily Deputy Bell’s daughter was at school when this all occurred.

As ordered Deputy Bell reported to Patrol and has been working there ever since.

4/3-4/15: It is reported although not confirmed that Deputies Cole, Duvall, Bell, Johnson, Jones and Detective Dirner were given formal oral reprimands for the K9 text thread and ordered to sign a document stating they broke the “Sexual & Other Harassment Policy”. Some signed point-blank, while others such as Jones and Bell signed only that they had received it, not that they agreed with it.

4/29/2019: Deputy Jeremy Jones submitted his formal resignation to WilCo SO.

Points of Interest:

~It is important to note the way the new K9 handlers were moved into their positions. At WilCo SO, and almost every other Law Enforcement agency, there are prerequisites that must be met before you can even be considered for K9. There are also extensive one on one and group interviews that occur. However, the selection of the new K9 handlers was not conducted in this manner. In fact, the long standing K9 LT was not only not involved in the handlers selection, but was even unaware Sheriff Chody was assigning new handlers to his unit. None of the policies or procedures were followed in the assignment of the new K9 handlers and K9 Sgt. The K9s who were reassigned to deputies with less than one year Patrol experience at WilCo SO. Two were assigned to deputies with less than six months and another to a deputy who had not finished his FTO phase.

Interesting point Chody made in an interview with the Pickles Project:

Pickles Project- What was the best apprehension an Officer and K9 partner have made together?

Sheriff Chody-  K9 Max had been utilized in searching for an elderly male who went missing this past summer. The elderly male was missing for most of the day in the blazing Texas heat.  After hours of searching and darkness looming, k9 Max located the elderly male who was in dire need of water.  Had K9 Max not located this man, he would not be with us today. (this was with Bell)

Pickles Project- How does the pairing of Canine to Officer work? Does the Officer you get paired with a specific Canine or work with a couple of dogs to see which one would be the best fit?
Sheriff Chody-Here at WilCo, we first want to make certain that the deputy is a good Officer first.  Then when a position in K9 is vacant, we post the position for interested deputies to put in for.  Deputies are then boarded and present themselves to the board for an oral interview.  They are then ranked from a series of questions and the scores are tallied.  The board will rank them in order of preference. Finally, the results (numbers) are presented to me.

As the Sheriff, I have the final say, but typically we rely on the recommendation of the board. To conclude the process, the deputy that is chosen proceeds to meet a K9 that has already been picked by the K9-trainer.  Altogether, the new K9 deputy will then have roughly a month or so of training and bonding with their new K9 partner.  This is a facility where the new k9 trainer and new K9 train together during the day and literally are boarded together for the night as a form of bonding.  The k9 will sleep in the same bed, eat, and play in this room.  The pair is literally spending all the time together for the month.

Pickles Project- We all know animals have a ‘healing’ quality. You have found the K9 unit has created an opportunity to ‘close the gap’ with the community. Can you elaborate a bit?
Sheriff Chody- Yes, (especially) by including the K9’s on our Social Media, we have attracted animal lovers. This has given us an opportunity to share funny photos that include our handlers who are Police Officers.  People are seeing the deputies as humans who love their animals, not just as Law Enforcement.  We also use humor with setup videos related to Law Enforcement like arresting K9 Nemo, then interrogating him for bringing Kongs® in the Sheriff’s office. We call it ‘Paw and Order’. Also, it’s just plain FUN! Its paid dividends for us on a whole. We now have baseball cards featuring our K9 dogs!

For those who are just catching up on all of this, please allow me to put faces to the names you are reading about. This is Aaron Skinner (Axel), Deputy Mark Bell (Max), Jeremy Stewart (Bolo) and Jeremy Jones (Drago).

Deputy Skinner and Axel, K9 removed and fired
Deputy Bell and Max, K9 removed and sent back to patrol
Deputy Jeremy Jones and Drago, K9 removed and sent back to patrol, resigned
Deputy Jeremy Stewart, K9 removed and fired
Chody’s Facebook Post

~Former K9 handler Mark Bell and Brian Dirner still work for the SO in different capacities. Deputies Sara Cole, Charles Duvall and Derrick Johnson still are members of the K9 unit. It is still unclear why certain deputies were fired, others had their K9s removed, and others remain with their K9s. Chody has refused to release the interviews where he claims the two lied, and in a Facebook statement, he said that two were not “remorseful enough” so they had their K9s removed.

UPDATE: 3/4/20 K9 Axel is deceased. No honors given. No statement by handler or SO.

Drago has had emergency surgery and no response has been given as to his whereabouts or condition.

Additionally, we have confirmed that the “First Female K9 Handler” Sarah Cole, who was actually recruited for the job when her then-boyfriend applied, supplied the reportedly edited version of the K9 text thread which led to the firing of two K9 officers.

We are told from a very reliable source that her now-husband Pence is the one that reported it. (video obtained via Youtuber and edited by same)