*Additional reporting by Andrew Branca/Daily Light
WAXAHACHIE — Before he pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault, Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown officially resigned Wednesday morning.
The guilty plea made in the Ellis County Court at Law No. 2 stems from a Jan. 1 altercation inside a Midlothian Whataburger that involved two college-aged men and Brown’s brother, Bobby Brown, at approximately 2 a.m.
On Wednesday morning, at 6:24 a.m., Brown posted to his personal Facebook page, “Good morning y'all. I need extra prayers today please. Y'all get your coffee and read Isaiah 41 verses 10-13. Have a great day."
A few hours later and in addition to his resignation, Brown surrendered his peace officer license to a member of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, was booked into the Wayne McCollum Detention Center and required to pay a $500 fine plus approximately $272 in court costs.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, who was appointed by 40th District Judge Bob Carroll as the Attorney Pro Tem, told the Daily Light that there would be no other legal actions taken against Brown. He also stated Wednesday morning that during the Jan 1 incident "what you think occurs at 2 o’clock in the morning at a Whataburger" is "exactly what occurred."
"There was a fight that the college men, the youngsters, were not the provocateurs. They did not initiate the confrontation," Ligon said. "Matthew Longoria acted to defend his friend Caleb Tomgenovich. And the sheriff, Mr. Brown, at that point, struck Matthew Longoria. The sheriff was prosecuted for the assault on Matthew Longoria.
In a statement issued by Johnny Brown at 11:42 a.m., he stated "it has been my honor to serve as the Sheriff of Ellis County, Texas for two terms and to have been re-elected by its citizens in the most recent election. I was involved in an unfortunate incident earlier this year which has reflected unfavorably upon me, and I do not want it to adversely impact the good men and women of the Ellis County Sheriff's Office or the citizens we serve."
Brown also stated the resignation is immediate and irrevocable and that he has "taken ownership of the criminal responsibility that arose from my participation in the incident involving my brother and third parties."
"I have accepted the judgment and sentencing of the court and will not file for new trial [sic] or an appeal," he continued. "Additionally, I have decided to end my long career in law enforcement by permanently surrendering my Texas Peace Officer License and all certificates issued to me by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. [...] I thank the citizens of Ellis County and I have only the best wishes for the employees of the Ellis County Sheriff's Office."
As previously reported by the Daily Light and in a statement provided by the Law Offices of Morgan Taylor, PLLC, Brown entered the Whataburger where "multiple people were involved in the altercation.”
"Sheriff Brown walked into Whataburger in Midlothian where a fight was already in progress. His initial observation was a large white male assaulting Sheriff Brown’s 59-year-old brother and knocking him to the floor," read the statement issued by Brown's legal counsel. "As a sworn law enforcement officer, he is obligated to preserve the peace. He used the force and language necessary to end the violence, prevent further assaults, and protect others from being harmed."
Richard Carter, of Walker and Byington, PLLC, said his client did not participate in the incident as a peace officer.
“At the time he was not wearing his badge. He was not wearing a gun. He just finished helping the Republican Women with a fundraiser and it was late,” said Carter of the actions taken by Brown at the Whataburger. “He had been messing with cleaning trash. He was acting as an individual and it is a risk that anybody takes whether you’re an officer or individual if you intervene in something.”
Carter also explained that when a peace officer intervenes in a situation without prior knowledge of how it has unfolded, he or she is taking a chance at potentially assisting the wrong party.
“You don’t know what happened before you entered the scene. It may very well be your going to the aid of the wrong person. This is a risk that one can take. It may very well be that we have more than one victim in this case, in the sense that Johnny Brown is the victim of the circumstances here,” Cater stated. “But the law is very complex and he took a chance to assist his brother in what he thought was necessary. We can’t undo what has happened. The fact is right or wrong whether it was clearly a violation or it was just probable cause to file a charge existed, the fact is this was disruptive in Johnny Brown’s opinion. This was disruptive to his ability to continue to perform his duties as sheriff.
“It was unfair to him, his officers and employees of the county for that department to be operated under that condition. It was not that he was without any type of fault or responsibility, but he untimely bit the bullet on this and took full responsibility for things going forward for the benefit of this office, this county, and the citizens.”
One of the subjects in the altercation, Matthew Longoria told the Daily Light Wednesday morning that he is pleased with the outcome and does not think Brown is a bad guy. However, he could not go into the particulars of the incident as the case against Bobby Brown is still pending.
"There are still other matters in other cases pending and his testimony in regard to those, there is still a follow up with other suspects that are involved," Ligon stated. "State rules of ethics prevent us from discussing it and Matthew would be a witness to that incident."
"He resigned and that is justice," Longoria said. "Just from our end and everyone involved, we are just grateful for the cooperation and that he took the responsibility. That is it. He stepped down, and I think that he did the right thing."
Longoria added, "Going into the situation we thought it was a situation with just two men. To find out it was the sheriff it seemed like it was a very bad reflection on the county and just all police. That is why it was important to me."
However, Longoria explained after "seeing how Midlothian [Police Department] and the DA from Montgomery handled the situation it changed my view on it. Initially, I don’t know the words for it. It was just hard to deal with. [...] Today was about the sheriff and nothing else. In regards to that, I think that we got everything that we wanted as far as the sheriff goes."
Ligon was appointed as the special prosecutor after Judge Carroll granted Ellis County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson a recusal from the case. Wilson previously issued a release that cited his "personal and professional relationship" with Brown in the formal request for recusal from the ongoing investigation and potential prosecution.
"A recusal in this matter will avoid the possible appearance of impropriety and serve to protect the public’s confidence that justice has been, and is being, faithfully served," the release stated. "Texas law grants an attorney pro tem the full authority of the local prosecutor’s office. Because Mr. Ligon is already an attorney for the state in another jurisdiction, his service as an attorney pro tem is considered an additional duty of his own office. As such, Texas law specifically states that he is not entitled to additional compensation. Attorneys pro tem are entitled to additional compensation only when they are not already attorneys for the state."
According to the Montgomery County website, Ligon is in his second term with the county after being elected to his current role as district attorney in 2012.
During a Feb. 7 phone conversation with the Daily Light, Ligon said that the “good thing about the grand jury is that it is a panel full of Ellis County citizens and they will give me some direction as to how they think I should proceed.”
Ligon added that at that time he had “spoken with a dozen witnesses” and the “investigation is moving forward rapidly.”
“One of the benefits of having special prosecutor is that they don’t have any alliances or allegiances,” Ligon added.
According to records with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) obtained Jan. 12 by the Daily Light, Brown has served in law enforcement for over 24 years, which includes the last eight years as the Ellis County Sheriff.
Before his appointment as sheriff on Jan. 1, 2009, Brown served as a peace officer with the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office beginning Oct. 14, 2001. He also served a 14-month stint with the Kennedale Police Department, twice was employed by the Midlothian Police Department for a combined four years and 10 months and also served for three months with the Roanoke Police Department. Brown was twice appointed as the Ellis County Pct. 4 Constable — once for five months in 1996 and again for two years from Aug. 1, 1998 — Aug. 1, 2000.
Brown was granted his peace officer license Aug. 8, 1982, Advanced Peace Officer Aug. 6, 2002, and Master Peace Officer Sept. 26, 2012.
According to his TCOLE records, Brown has logged 366 training hours since his appointment as the sheriff of Ellis County. The records also show that he last had patrol and tactical training Sept. 27, 2007. Brown has since recorded 11 hours of community relations training during five separate sessions in 2009, 2011, twice in 2012, and 2014. He also logged four hours of training in community policing with the Sheriff’s Association of Texas Feb. 23, 2011.
The TCOLE records also show that in June of 2006, Brown completed 16 hours of “Crisis Intervention Training” with the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office.
Ellis County Judge Carol Bush issued a statement just after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and said it is "unfortunate that Ellis County has been cast in a negative light due to multiple allegations involving law enforcement in recent months." She added that, while "disheartening, it is certainly not a reflection on the greater community."
"This morning my office received a letter of resignation from Sheriff Johnny Brown. Due to the resignation, the Commissioners Court has the obligation and legal duty to appoint an individual to this very important office," Bush stated. "I will convene a meeting of the Commissioners Court to establish the selection process for appointing a sheriff to fill the remainder of the term vacated by Sheriff Brown. The selection process must be approached with great care. The candidate must possess the highest level of professionalism, strong leadership, experience and commitment to restoring the integrity and reputation of the Sheriff’s Office. The Commissioners and I will use this opportunity to choose the right leader who will chart a positive course while rebuilding the trust of the citizens we serve.
"[...] The public can rest assured that during this transition, there will be absolutely no interruption in law enforcement services provided by the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office."
Midlothian Police Capt. John Spann confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the Midlothian Police Department conducted the investigation and, once completed, presented the case to the Ellis County District Attorney’s Office for presentation to the Ellis County Grand Jury. He also noted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was given a copy of the case file but is unsure of which outlet presented the findings to the FBI. Spann also previously told the Daily Light that no arrests were made at the scene.
"I offer my most sincere apologies to any and all who I may have hurt or disappointed," stated Brown in his statement. "As can be seen by the actions I have taken to make things right today, I care more for the office I held, my coworkers and fellow public officials, the citizens of Ellis County, and respect for the law than to continue a battle that consumes time, money, and detracts from the mission of protecting and serving."
*This article was updated with comments from Richard Carter at 1:15 p.m. The article was updated again at 1:29 p.m. with information on the investigation by the Midlothian Police Department. The article was updated a third time at 1:39 p.m. with the statement issued by Ellis County Judge Carol Bush.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith