Voluntarily resigned former K9 Officer Jeremy Jones speaks out about what happened with the K9 Unit in 2019

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Jeremy Jones and I am a former Williamson County Sheriff’s Office K9 Handler. I was assigned K9 Drago and worked with him during my employment at the Sheriff’s Office (SO). I am a former Lubbock Police Department K9 Handler and US Army combat veteran. I wanted to share my detailed account of what led up to the dismantling of the WilCo K9 unit and my Willful and Voluntary Resignation. I hope this account provides some much needed to detail surrounding the entire unit and dysfunction of Robert Chody’s Leadership. I know my account is long, but I felt out of fairness to all involved it was important to provide as much detail as possible.

I also want people to know that I am sharing all of this not out of spite or anger, rather I felt it was time to give my family a voice and hopefully shed some light on the current atmosphere at the SO. There are many good men and women working in fear under this administration. And many of them fear for their jobs.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, I was notified by my first line supervisor that everyone in the K9 unit needed to turn over their twitter handles and passwords immediately, so they could be turned over to the Sheriff’s Office PIO. This was the second time this order was issued.

(Background on Twitter Pages: These twitter pages were set up personally by each individual handler. The original five twitter pages were done voluntarily by the individual K9 handlers. It is very popular in the law enforcement community, especially the K9 community, to have a Twitter account for your dog. Handlers use it to disseminate useful, fun, and motivating information in regard to good deeds done with the K9’s. Since that time, multiple other deputies and supervisors have set up Twitter accounts depicting them as official Sheriff’s Office employees and post often. These people are all allowed to post as they see fit on these pages.)

However, the K9 unit has repeatedly faced criticism from Sheriff Chody and his command staff for posting on their privately-owned Twitter accounts. They have even been ordered to not post photos, or anything related to the WCSO K9 program on their personal, and I mean not related to the WCSO in any form or fashion, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. There was also a requirement set on the WCSO K9 unit to send pictures and videos of their K9s working. We were told we must submit at least one picture or video to Sheriff Chody daily, with no exceptions. This was very taxing, inconvenient and stressful for everyone in the K9 unit. I have been in law enforcement for 11 years and previously served in the US Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan in combat from 2003-2006 and I have never worked in such a hostile and stressful work environment.

I have been in law enforcement for 11 years and previously served in the US Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan in combat from 2003-2006 and I have neve

On Tuesday 3/12/2019 I, along with the entire WCSO K9 unit, received an email from Commander Steve Deaton about the K9 social media accounts that have been up and active for approximately one year. The same accounts Sheriff Chody told people to follow on Twitter countless times. The email was disseminating an order that all accounts were not to be utilized any further unless explicitly approved by Sheriff Chody.

Below is a copy of the email sent by Commander Steve Deaton on 3/12/2019.

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

Williamson County Sheriff’s Office

Patrol Operations

508 S. Rock St.

Georgetown, TX 78626

512-943-1317

#

Shortly after I received this email I was informed that one or more of the deputies on the K9 team had been placed on administrative leave and that our 1st line supervisor had been placed on modified duty. I was then contacted by my K9 Lieutenant and told that he was going to need me to step up and assist him in keeping the remainder of the team running as usual. I was asked to step up because I was the 2nd most experienced handler on the team and have been in leadership positions prior to working for the WCSO. I took this request seriously and began assisting the Lieutenant in the day to day operation of the WCSO K9 unit.

On Wednesday, 3/13/2019 while on vacation, I was notified by Sgt. Dirner that I was to report to Chief Tim Ryle’s office. I reported to Chief Ryle’s office as instructed, in uniform even though I was on vacation. Chief Ryle sat me down and read me a list of policies regarding social media use and conduct. I answered all of his questions truthfully and to the best of my knowledge. I was also told specifically by Chief Ryle that this was not an Internal Affairs investigation, merely an inquiry and that nothing that I had done warranted an internal affairs investigation. He asked me if I knew what was going on and I replied to him that I did not and that I could only assume that there had been an incident involving social media. He replied that there had been an incident and that he appreciated my cooperation. I left at this time and returned to my vacation which included going to Houston with my family.

Later that day, all staff learned that Deputy Jeremy Stewart had been terminated. This again caused an unimaginable amount of stress on myself and my co-workers.

On Friday, 3/15/2019, while in Houston with my family on vacation at approximately 1102 hours, I received an email from Chief Tim Ryle. The email stated that he had been made aware of a text thread that the K9 unit used on personal phones with personal communications in it. He went on to issue an order that this personal thread from our personal phones be turned over to him no later than “noon” on this date. Below you will find a copy and paste of this e-mail.

Sergeant Diner informed me that some time back he had everyone on the team join a text thread in order to facilitate communication amongst the team. He uses this as a platform to give each of you direction on upcoming team events and activities as well as a way for the team to communicate about activities related to work. As such this text stream or thread is a work product. I understand from Sgt. Dirner that some or all of you may have chosen to have this thread on your personal phone or your county-issued phone as a matter of convenience. Either way, I am now issuing you an order to preserve those messages and to copy those messages and send them to me only at my email. Tim.ryle@wilco.org. Do not send them as a response to this email but as a separate and individual response to my email address. I am not interested in any other information on your personal devices that is not related to work or a work product.

Each of you should consider this a direct order and shall respond no later than noon today.

Chief Ryle

Other than being on vacation, I found this order to be incredibly disturbing. In my opinion and the opinion of several others in the legal community, I find this order to be in violation of myself and my co-worker’s 1st amendment rights to free speech as this text thread was on personal matters, not official SO business. I also find this to be a violation of my 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure because it was an issued order and with the history of this administration, everyone knows that if you violate an order you will be terminated, regardless of the reason.

With that being said, I contacted my legal representation through the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) whom I have been a member of since July 1, 2013. I was advised by my attorney that a failure to turn them over would result in termination and to include in my correspondence with Chief Ryle and the text messages that I was not voluntarily turning them over and that it was an order to do so. There were 17 emails transmitted totaling 362 screen shoots (I believe) of a text thread from our personal phones dating back to the beginning of January. The following is a copy and paste of the 17th email and includes a statement I was advised to include in my correspondence from my attorney. Also found it very unreasonable that he provided us 58 minutes to respond to his “order.”

I am sending these photos as a direct order from Chief Ryle, not voluntarily, as they arefrom my personal phone.

I believe that this a complete set and did not willfully omit anything.

This is the final email totaling 17 emails I believe.

Deputy Jeremy Jones

Williamson County Sheriff’s Office

K9/Patrol

Personal –

County – 512-948-2624

I did not receive any further communication from anyone in the command staff from this point until Wednesday 3/20/2019.

On Saturday evening, 3/16/2019, a representative from the Texas Municipal Police Association reached out to Sheriff Robert Chody in reference to the K9 debacle that was currently going on. He requested to meet with the Sheriff to discuss the current state of affairs and the way that the investigation was being handled. There was no return communication from Sheriff Chody to the TMPA Representative.

Also, during this week TMPA Attorney Robert McCabe received notification from Chief Tim Ryle that he was untrustworthy and that they refused to speak with him moving forward regarding any of the deputies he represented. This was directly after one of the fired K9 Deputies appeals to the Sheriff was denied without causing violating the WCSO’s own policy manual.

On Wednesday, 3/20/2019, while still on approved vacation, I was called by my Lieutenant and advised that Commander Deaton had called him and asked for me to come in while on vacation with my K9 to see Chief Ryle. I asked specifically about being on vacation and I was informed that Commander Deaton asked if I was in town and said that if I was in town that I needed to come in. I was ordered to be in Chief Ryle’s office at 1330 hours.

I arrived at headquarters at 1330 hours and waited outside of Chief Ryle’s office. He greeted me and called me into his office and shut the door. We were alone, with no witnesses. He informed me that changes were being made to the K9 unit and that I was no longer going to be a part of it. He said I was to report to Sgt. Hodgkiss on E. Shift from 1500-0300 upon my return from vacation. He then instructed me to find K9 Sgt. Brian Dirner and relinquish K9 Drago to him. Which I did.

I left the Sheriff’s Office and returned to my vacation. I was given no explanation for the removal from the K9 unit. I was assigned to Sgt. Hodgkiss who the administration knows I have had disagreements with prior to this date and whom I verbally complained about to Asst. Chief Roy Fikac on a previous occasion. Whether or not they admit it this was a punitive move on behalf of Sheriff Robert Chody.

According to details on conversations had between Chief Ryle and other members of the K9 unit, the reorganization was based on the information contained within the personal text message thread that we were ordered to turn over. I have reviewed that thread at length and have been unable to find anything that was said by me in that thread to be a policy violation in the WCSO policy manual. I do not believe that anything contained within that thread should be used in any way against anyone. It was a private thread on personal phones. However, being that the SO chose to use it, there were many things said by other handlers that could be constrained as a policy violation, yet there was no negative action taken against them. There was no reassignment, no removal of K9’s, and no terminations of any kind to multiple K9 handlers participating in the text thread.

On Thursday, March 21, 2019, at approximately 1715 hours, I was at my children’s school in Georgetown after just finishing watching my daughter play soccer against Stirling Classical Academy out of Leander. As I was having a conversation with my family to include my wife, parents, and children about where we wanted to go for dinner, Sheriff Chody pulled up in his County issued police car. He exited his police car in his uniform pants and an undershirt clearly coming directly from work. As he walked to the soccer fields he looked directly at me and my family and refused to acknowledge us at all. I find this behavior to be unacceptable by a leader of a 600-member agency and as a taxpayer in Williamson County, it is even more despicable. This was a very hostile and unprovoked behavior on the Sheriff of Williamson County’s part and further illustrated his behavior patterns.

I left town again on Friday morning March 22, 2019, and took vacation time to attend a Wounded Veterans event out of town. Later that afternoon I received a call from Patrol Administrative Assistant to Commander Steve Deaton. The call was regarding my county issued patrol car. She asked me when I could turn it in. I advised her that I was out of town supporting a wounded veteran’s event and would not be returning until Sunday evening. She then asked me if I could turn the car in on Sunday and that I would be notified when a new car was available for me to pick up. Yet again they were asking me to complete county business while on vacation and spending time with my family. I felt as I had no other choice but to agree to avoid further unwarranted retribution.

Later this same day (3/22/2019), I began receiving phone calls from other WCSO employees totally unrelated to the WCSO K9 unit asking me why I had been moved and what I thought about the new K9 handlers. I was unaware of any new developments since my conversation with the patrol admin assistant this morning. It came to a point that I had to leave my county phone behind so that I was able to have a work-free environment while supporting the veterans’ activity. I was told by a caller and a WCSO employee that for the first time ever they included the names of the K9’s assigned to the new handlers in the personal orders. Later that day Sheriff Robert Chody began tweeting about his recent changes to the K9 unit.

The first tweet was on 3/22/19 at 1602 hours. The tweet said “We’ve made some changes with some personnel on the K9 unit and slowly rolling out our new one-stop location for all our K9’s on twitter. Be sure to follow @WilcoK9 #LivePD #LivePDNation.”

It is followed by a tweet by a follower that asks what has occurred and Sheriff Chody responded “No need to worry but thank u. Two handlers are no longer employed”

I think it is also important to note that this is the same Twitter account Sheriff Chody claims to be his “Campaign” account.

Sheriff Chody then commenced to tweet out pictures of all of the assigned dogs with their new handlers. It is also important to note that all but one of the reassigned dogs have been assigned to deputies that have less than one year of service on patrol with the WCSO.

Two of them were assigned to Deputies with less than 6 months and one of them was assigned to someone who has not even finished his FTO phase with the WCSO.

Sheriff Chody stated on Twitter that this move was in the best interest of the agency. How can that be when it takes months if not years for a K9 and his handler to become a trustworthy team. All the while costing the taxpayers of Williamson County thousands and thousands of dollars because someone in his staff disagreed with the way he runs this agency in a private text conversation.

The next tweet in reference to the K9 debacle came at 1645 hours on 3/24/19. It states

“Some will here (sic) different stories but until I can comment further:” he then posts a picture of something else he wrote.

The following is a quote from what is written in the picture: “Many are asking why the changes in the K9-Team. Two handlers are no longer employed and as a Sheriff, I have a responsibility to the K9’s, the office, and the community to do what is best for all. I assure you all our K9’s are in great hands and the decision is not taken lightly. No, this isn’t typical but had to make a decision based on all facts involved. Once we can release those facts, I will.”

Sheriff Chody had just told the public and the citizens of Williamson County that he will release the facts of this “investigation.” This is a direct admittance that he has the intention of publicly shaming and demoralizing all that are involved. Everyone that is involved is and were not only Deputies of the WCSO but are also tax-paying citizens of this county. Our families and children work and go to school in this county and one of them owns a business in this county. That business has also been blocked from Sheriff Robert Chody’s official Twitter page.

It is not hard to recognize the K9 Handlers from the WCSO as the Twitter world and LivePD has made them recognizable faces nationwide. It is often that I go places and am asked about my employment with the WCSO as a K9 Handler. This attempt and blatant admittance of his intentions to release his information from his version of the story makes it obvious that there is at a minimum a hostile workplace grievance. When you are part of a specialized unit that drives a car marked differently and a uniform that is different than everyone else it makes you a familiar face around town. It proves his intent to defame and demoralize his employees and former employees.

Sheriff Chody has also refused to communicate with the Williamson County Deputies Association in reference to this and many other issues going on inside the WCSO. Sheriff Chody and his command staff have created such an environment of fear within this agency that no one is willing to come forward with anything that is troubling or concerns them. As the former Vice President of the WCDA, I have people bring these complaints to me regularly. The President and I had attempted to have conversations with the Sheriff and his command staff in reference to these problems but have only been stifled in our attempts.

On 3/25/19 at 0821 hours, I pulled up to the Round Rock Annex located at 1801 E. Old Settlers to retrieve a paycheck from an off-duty job that I worked. The check was deposited there in a mailbox for my retrieval. The Sheriff and his command staff have created such a hostile environment that I felt the need to video my trip to the annex to protect myself from this administration. I still maintained keys to the K9 areas in the annex and did not feel comfortable entering a common area of the annex to retrieve my paycheck. I felt that if given the opportunity I would be accused of wrongdoing in an attempt to get rid of me.

I also feel that I have been targeted by the Sheriff’s administration because of my affiliation with the WCDA, as well as the TMPA. I committed no policy violations when others may have, I and was removed from my position, reassigned shifts to a night shift under a sergeant that I have complained on in the past all because of my affiliation and for seeking legal counsel when the administration attempted to circumvent the processes in place to assist and counsel Employees in the discipline and termination process. Both the Texas Local Govt. Code and the Occupations code were violated during the recent investigation.

At that point in time at Williamson County, I strongly believed that I needed to obtain a paycheck insurance policy to protect my family of wrongful termination. I had been sick every day since this all began. I was constantly nauseous and did not want to return to work in the current hostile environment knowing that at any moment I could be terminated, have my rights infringed upon, and just generally being afraid to do anything.

On April 3, 2019, I was called into my LT’s office and presented with a disciplinary form

for an Oral Reprimand stating I and other members of the K9 unit had violated Policy 2.3 “Sexual and Other Harassment”. I was told if I did not sign it I would be terminated immediately. I signed the document only as having received it. I did not agree with these false allegations and attached my formal response to the form. I clarified that under no circumstances did I agree with or admit to any type of harassment or anything else they were accusing me of. I also made it clear that I at no point communicated anything sexual in nature in the personal K9 unit text thread.

On April 29, 2019, I submitted my formal resignation to the Sheriff’s office. Out of professional courtesy and respect I gave a two-week notice. However, upon receipt of my resignation I was told my departure would need to be immediate. As I was leaving the SO an email was sent out to all staff notifying them I was no longer employed by the SO.

The emotional, financial, and physical stress this has caused my wife, my three children and myself is inexplicable. The constant anxiety and fear we lived under for so many months have taken its toll on all of us and those close to us.

To this day my children still journal and talk about K9 Drago and why their Daddy isn’t a Sheriff’s Deputy anymore. One of my children still has this overwhelming feeling of guilt lingering over them, that they somehow failed Drago. My wife and I continue to address this and try to take away their pain and sense of guilt, but we are unable to take away all the pain this has caused my children. Try living with that as a parent.

No matter how much my wife and I try to explain to them what happened they fail to fully comprehend the situation, as do my wife and myself. We still do not have a clear understanding as to why our lives have been turned upside down, while others faced no punishment.

While I have found new employment outside of Law Enforcement, my family has still sustained a financial loss and it has been difficult. We also went for several months with no health insurance, at which point my daughter fractured her hip.

While there is so much more I could share, I believe that out of respect for my family and my colleagues still employed at the SO, I will end my story here.

To reiterate, I would like everyone to know that I am sharing all of this not out of spite or anger, rather I felt it was time to give my family a voice and hopefully shed some light on the current atmosphere at the SO. There are many good men and women working in fear under this administration. And many of us fear for their safety.

Respectfully,

Jeremy Jones