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Williamson County sheriff says social media policy is too vague to punish commander over posts

The posts by Commander Steve Deaton contained photos of dolls depicting actions such as rape, kidnapping, sexual acts and the mutilation of a black football player.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — At the Williamson County Commissioner's Court Tuesday, some residents addressed their concerns regarding social media posts made by a Williamson County Sheriff's commander. 

The posts contained photos of dolls depicting actions such as rape, kidnapping, sexual acts and the mutilation of a black football player. Those photos were posted by Commander Steve Deaton.

According to our partners at the Austin American Statesman, the Facebook posts – which have since been removed – were published as recently as December, and go as far back as November 2017. 

The sheriff's office declined an on-camera interview with KVUE on Wednesday. Sheriff Robert Chody did not answer KVUE's questions about whether Commander Deaton will be disciplined or fired at that time. However, on Thursday, Sheriff Chody sent out an email that stated that the sheriff's office's social media policy is too vague to punish Deaton beyond an oral reprimand. 

Sheriff Chody said the current policy states that "employees may use social media in any way they choose, as long as that use does not produce adverse consequences." But the sheriff's office could not conclude what adverse consequences actually resulted from Deaton's posts or what exactly that term means.

"I visited with Deaton and expressed my concern for the elf on the shelf posts and I asked that he take the posts down," Sheriff Chody said in the email. "Deaton immediately took down the posts and has not made another post like it since."

PHOTOS: Williamson County commander posts ‘racist,’ misogynistic’ photos on social media

Prior to the posts being taken down, Sheriff Chody and County Judge Bill Gravell were among the Facebook friends who had "liked" at least one of the posts by Deaton. 

Sheriff Chody gave the following statement to KVUE on Wednesday about his "liking" a post:

"I do not condone the posts and the one 'like' from me was related to standing for the U.S. flag and only that. As a veteran, I am very passionate about the issue of standing for our U.S. flag and completely overlooked the obvious. That was a mistake on my part."

When reached for comment about "liking" a post, Judge Gravell told KVUE the following:

“While I feel strongly that people should not disrespect our American flag, I do not condone the violent nature of this post. I should have given more consideration to what was being portrayed and not ‘liked’ it.”

Judge Gravell's also declined an on-camera interview request and his office said he has no further comment on the issue.

Williamson County Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said in a statement, "I am disgusted by the images I have seen. They are sickening, disturbing and violating. I believe that this kind of behavior should never be tolerated or excused. As it relates to any possible action to be taken in this case, the Commissioner's Court has no authority over the hiring, disciplining or firing or personnel in the sheriff's office. That authority lies with the sheriff."

Williamson County Pct. 1 Commissioner Terry Cook said in a statement:

"The Commissioners Court is limited by law as to what we can officially do. A Commissioners Court approves the number of positions for a sheriff and adopts a budget to fund a sheriff’s office, but a sheriff, as an elected official, controls who to hire and who to terminate under his or her 'sphere of control.'

Due to such fact, any questions relating to employment matters of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office would need to be presented to the Williamson County Sheriff or his designated representative in that office.

Change must come from within that department, and change can be done through public pressure and action."

WATCH: Williamson County residents call for commander's firing

Gary Richter was one of the residents who spoke up at Tuesday's meeting, calling the images "racist" and "misogynistic."

"This had an effect on me and it made my stomach hurt. I think my initial reaction was, 'Oh my God, could this be for real?' and it turns out, it was for real," Richter said. "The number of levels to be disturbed – one is thinking about the mind of a person who would do that kind of thing. The person had to imagine this in the first place, and go through the trouble to purchase supplies, take the time to pose the images and take the picture to post them online. I don't think such a person should be in law enforcement at all, and certainly not in a position of leadership as this person is."

Susan Wukasch has lived in Williamson County for 30 years. She also spoke at Tuesday's meeting.

RELATED: Williamson County sheriff discusses complaint filed against commander, recent deputy firings 

"In all my years in this area, I've always found Wilco to be proudly, loudly Christian, not humbly, but proudly Christian," Wukasch said. "I call on you to remember not just your responsibility as elected officials, but as prominent members of your church communities to condemn the actions of Sheriff Chody and his apparently trusted officer commander Deaton." 

Earlier in 2019, Deaton received a reprimand for a comment he made about a producer for the reality TV show, "Live PD," following a complaint that alleged he challenged a group of deputies to have sex with the producer. At that time, Chody said investigators questioned 17 people who were in the room at the time the comment was made.

RELATED: Austin police commander suspended for unprofessional conduct

"Was there a comment made? Absolutely," Sheriff Chody said. "But it is a comment that can be addressed with an oral reprimand, and that's what we are going to do."

The sheriff's office told KVUE Commander Deaton does not have a comment at this time.

Residents' statements from Tuesday's meeting can be heard in full on the Williamson County Commissioner's Court website.


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