ROUND ROCK — A Williamson County sheriff’s sergeant has resigned after an investigation showed he used a racial epithet in conversation with an African American cadet during training and called a female cadet a whore, officials said.


The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement conducted the investigation in September after complaints from Austin-area police departments whose officers attended the training from November 2018 to May. The commission, a state agency that enforces police training standards, also found that the academy had changed academic standards without official approval, making it easier for cadets who just wanted to work for the sheriff’s office to stay enrolled.


The commission’s recently released case report said an African American cadet told investigators that during training, Sgt. David Nickel told him, "You’ve got to understand that people on the streets are going to call you a f---ing n----r."


Other cadets said they heard Nickel use the slur, the report said.


Nickel told investigators that he used the word when talking to the African American cadet about being an officer but did not call the cadet the epithet. Nickel said he told the African American cadet, "If someone calls you a n----r, you’re going to have to maintain your composure."


Nickel also called the African American cadet a "p---y" and questioned the cadet’s loyalty when the cadet changed his mind about what police department he wanted to work for, the report said.


"The running joke throughout the academy was the treatment of (the African American cadet) versus the other cadets," investigators wrote.


Commission investigators also looked into language Nickel used with a female cadet. (The American-Statesman is not naming the cadets due to the nature of the allegations.) The woman told investigators she was running laps around the training building while wearing shorts and a shirt, and Nickel looked at her and said, "Oh, we don’t allow whores here."


The report said other cadets heard Nickel make the remark.


Nickel told investigators he had previously told the cadet not to run in a spaghetti-strapped shirt and high-cut shorts but she showed up in the same outfit, the report said. Nickel said he told the female cadet, "You shouldn’t be dressed like a whore at a police training facility."


The report also said that Williamson County sheriff’s Lt. Craig Gripentrog changed academic standards because multiple cadets had failed two tests.


At the beginning of the session, the rules stated that cadets who failed three tests could be dismissed from the academy, the report said. Gripentrog told investigators it was changed so the cadets, many of whom sought to work in the sheriff’s office, just had to maintain a minimum grade point average of 80.


When investigators asked Gripentrog why the new rule did not apply to a Jarrell Police Department cadet who was dismissed when he failed tests at the beginning of the session, the lieutenant said he had "messed up" in failing the cadet.


A commander within the sheriff’s office told investigators that upper management had not changed the test standard and that Gripentrog should not have done so.


The Williamson County sheriff’s office runs the training center, which prepares cadets for careers in law enforcement. The classes are required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and include such subjects as criminal law. Cadets are sponsored by the agencies they seek to work for, and the agencies in return provide some of the instructors for the center.


The investigation started after Manor Police Chief Ryan Phipps told Pflugerville Police Chief Jessica Robledo that two of her officers complained to him about mistreatment at the academy, the report said. Robledo called other police chiefs who had cadets enrolled in the same academy class and found their officers had similar complaints about the academy.


Robledo, Phipps and the Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd went to Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody’s office on Aug. 14 and told Chody what happened, the report said. It said Chody asked the chiefs to let him investigate the issue before alerting the commission, but Robledo said she felt it was too late and she would contact the state agency.


Nickel, Gripentrog and the training academy all received reprimands, the report said. It concluded that the common theme at the academy was laziness and a lack of attention to detail.


"No one would admit to knowing how cadets were graded," it said. "The chain-of-command disagreed on multiple details and weren’t consistent on following their own policy manual."


It also said it would not recommend assigning SWAT team members, including Nickel, to be full-time instructors at the academy.