Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon has been appointed special prosecutor in a bizarre case involving Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown and a 2 a.m. brawl inside a Midlothian Whataburger on New Year’s Day. Midlothian Police responded to the scene after restaurant employees called 911 regarding a physical altercation with multiple parties involved, including Sheriff Brown and his brother. No arrests were made at the time. Instead, Midlothian PD detectives launched an investigation and Sheriff Brown sought legal counsel. With the current county sheriff involved, the Ellis County District Attorney requested a district judge appoint a special prosecutor from outside of the area, leading to the appointment of DA Brett Ligon.
Since becoming the DA in Montgomery County, Ligon has been appointed special prosecutor in several cases involving use of force allegations, officer involved shootings, various allegations of misconduct by police officers, Fourth Amendment cases, and violent crimes, which has earned him a reputation that he feels likely played a role in him being chosen to prosecute the Ellis County case. He also conducts the related lectures as part of requisite continuing legal education for all attorneys.
“As much as anything, people know that I have expertise involving law enforcement matters, and use of force allegations, so I think it’s as much matching the resources as getting the right person for the job,” Ligon said.
With an office of over 100, including 50 attorneys, 20 law enforcement officers, and 40 civilians, it isn’t a burden on Montgomery County’s court system for him to accept an appointment in a county over 2.5 hours away.
“We’re big enough to have prosecutors that can travel a little bit,” he said. “It would be incredibly hard if I was in a county where I was the only DA. In a case like this, it’s going to require some resources.”
The case marks Ligon’s first appointment in Ellis County, which is located just south of the Dallas metropolitan area, with a population of around 180,000. Midlothian, where the incident occurred, has a population of about 40,000. First Assistant District Attorney Mike Holley is assisting. Since the DA is a salaried state employee, while he acts as special prosecutor, Ellis County will only be responsible for the cost of travel, food, and lodging. Thanks to modern technology, much of the work can be done electronically, saving time and money. Even so, Ligon says once he accepts an appointment, for all intents and purposes, he is acting in the capacity of District Attorney Prosecutor in that case and will handle it as such. As for how much time may be involved, Ligon said Tuesday it was simply too soon to know.
Brown’s attorneys issued a statement claiming the sheriff entered the Whataburger to find a “large white male assaulting Sheriff Brown’s 59-year-old brother and knocking him to the floor.” The statement goes on to explain that as a sworn officer of the law, Brown “is obligated to preserve the peace” and he “used the force and language necessary to end the violence, prevent further assaults, and protect others from being harmed.”
The Midlothian Police Department issued a press release stating, in part, “…Dispatch received a 911 call of a “Fight in Progress”. It also stated, “The manager at the Whataburger reported that several males had been involved in an altercation, both physical and verbal in nature. Upon arrival, officers spoke with several involved parties and witnesses.”
Police said “one adult male” sustained minor injuries, but they did not identify the party in their press release. They did, however, mention Brown. They also alluded to the possibility other members of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office may have been involved.
“The Ellis County Sheriff was present during the incident, as were family, friends and possibly co-workers.”
According to various Ellis County media outlets, the other men involved claim the Sheriff and another man assaulted them.