Kent Howell’s job in law enforcement came to an abrupt halt in May when he was fired from the Erath County Sheriff’s Office.
Now the former deputy is running for sheriff against Matt Coates - the man who terminated him.
Howell’s campaign released an email on Oct. 18 outlining the reasons why he said he is no longer with the department.
“During this early campaign season, I have visited with multiple people and the question of my termination from the Erath County Sheriff’s Office often comes up,” the statement reads. “I have and will always remain open, honest, transparent, and accountable, regardless of the situation.”
Howell said he was terminated for “rumors” and “running a license plate for personal use.”
But those reasons outlined by Howell don’t line up to documents obtained by the E-T about his termination and the events leading up to it.
After filing an open records request with the sheriff’s office, the E-T received hundreds of pages of documents and video interviews between sheriff’s officials and Howell during the internal affairs investigations.
In his release to the public, Howell left out some significant details about the events leading up to his termination.
Last week, Howell sat down with the E-T to discuss those discrepancies.
BONDING OUT AN ALLEGED CHILD RAPIST
Sheriff’s department documents show that Howell was terminated after investigations into three incidents.
The first investigation, the documents show, resulted from Howell’s involvement in bailing out Philip Matthew Loyd, a Tarleton State University instructor accused of raping a 15-year-old boy in Mitchell, South Dakota.
The sheriff’s investigation concluded that Howell, while off-duty, went to the Erath County Sheriff’s Office with $5,000 to pay Loyd’s bond and get him out of jail.
Stephenville Police Department officials who had arrested Loyd raised concerns about Howell’s involvement with Sheriff Coates.
When questioned by Coates and Captain Jeremy Woodruff, Howell said he did it as a favor for his wife, Julie Howell, who worked with Loyd at the university.
During his interview Monday at the E-T, Howell said that, technically, he didn’t bond Loyd out of jail and was simply delivering the bail money because Loyd’s mother lives out of state and the family needed help.
He said in hindsight, the move was a mistake.
Following last week’s interview, Howell emailed a longer explanation about the incident, stating he did it to save the “taxpayer’s money.”
“This money was received by the jail in an effort to save the taxpayer’s money, reducing the cost of housing an inmate when the impending extradition would be occurring from his home state,” the email states. “Assisting in the bonding process removed the inmate swiftly from Erath County for further due process. This action is a duty I frequently performed during my 8 years as a pre-trial investigator in the implementation of PR bonds (personal recognizance) in efforts to keep jail costs as low as possible to Erath County in cases that met the requirements.”
Howell was suspended from the department while the internal affairs investigation continued and was forced to turn in his badge and county-issued weapon and cell phone.
The official findings state that Howell violated private and professional conduct and a conflict of interest policy.
“By Howell bonding an individual charged with a sexual offense this damages the public trust that is given to law enforcement,” the document states. “Howell involved himself in the bonding process of an offender charged with a sexual offense. This is in direct violation of the policy which states officers of this agency must avoid becoming involved in any situation, either on duty or off duty for which a conflict of interest is present. Howell was a sergeant of the agency holding Loyd. Loyd is a co-worker of a member of Howell’s family. Thus, the conflict of interest exists.”
Howell was then stripped of everything but his job.
He was forced to resign from the SWAT team, demoted from patrol sergeant to deputy and placed on six months probation.
MORE DEPARTMENT WOES
Howell continued working as a deputy on the night shift for the next two months until May.
Howell was investigated again, this time facing accusations that he had spread a rumor about Coates and another employee of the department, which turned out to be false.
“You are alleged to be involved with the spreading of rumors that create dissension, rebellious or disruptive behavior involving members of the Erath County Sheriff’s Office,” the sheriff’s department’s notice to Howell states.
Howell addressed the issue in his letter to the public.
“In May of 2019, I was contacted by a former ECSO employee with information regarding a rumor that allegedly involved Sheriff Coates,” Howell said. “I assured the person I would not be party to any alleged rumors, in hopes to stop further rumors being spread.”
He later admitted to sheriff’s officials that he “messed up” by sharing the information about the rumor with his wife.
THE FINAL TERMINATION
Shortly after Howell’s suspension, another violation surfaced that was the final catalyst leading to his termination.
According to the documents, Coates was informed by police officials that Howell had violated another department policy by illegally running a license plate search for personal use.
Howell reportedly ran the license plate of a Stephenville police officer who was visiting his ex-wife.
In his letter to the public, Howell said, “I did make the regrettable choice of running the license plate of a truck that was parked at the home where my children reside with their mother part-time. Having two young daughters, I wanted to know who was around them. Running the plate for personal use was wrong and not the best way to handle the concern for my children. I took responsibility and owned my mistake for which I am truly sorry.”
Howell’s final termination papers on May 31 state, “This is a serious incident in that dispatch ran the license plate at the request of Howell for Howell’s personal benefit not a law enforcement benefit. This action required dispatch to run the plate through the state data base TLETS which restricts usage of the system to law enforcement purposes only. This action on the part of Howell could result in the Erath County Sheriff’s Office losing the privilege of running information and having access to TLETS.”
In the end, the documents state Howell was terminated for violating rules of conduct, conduct unbecoming, misuse of government funds or property and engaging in disgraceful conduct that “adversely affects Erath County’s legitimate interest.”
Howell was given a “general discharge,” and in September announced that he is running for sheriff.
Coates and Howell are both running as Republicans so unless a Democrat announces their candidacy, the race will be decided during the Republican Party Primary on March 3.