Editor’s note: Several weeks ago the Empire-Tribune received information about an allegation of an attempted sexual assault in 2017 involving local businessman Cody Johnson, a candidate running for state representative of District 59.
We also learned that the alleged victim had reported the incident to former deputy Kent Howell while he was employed at the Erath County Sheriff’s Office. According to law enforcement officials, the case appeared to have been dropped without being properly investigated. The E-T was told that the case would be sent to District Attorney Alan Nash’s office for further review.
Because the allegations involved two high-profile political campaigns just weeks before early voting was set to begin, the E-T decided not to report on the story until the DA had a chance to review the case and make a determination on its validity.
We have obtained copies of the original complaint by Howell detailing the allegations made by the victim, but they are too graphic to share.
On Wednesday, the victim spoke out about the incident on social media, prompting the sheriff’s office to respond with the following press release.
Now that the allegations have come to light by the victim, the E-T will begin working on a story about the incident.
FROM THE ERATH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
On Jan. 20, 2020, a Freedom of Information Act request was presented to the Erath County Sheriff’s Office on behalf of a state representative candidate campaign regarding a sexual assault complaint against Mr. Cody Johnson. On Jan. 21 the ECSO provided the report and its narratives to the requestor. It was during this process that the report became known to the administration and included some concerning characteristics that I felt needed to be investigated further.
The fact that Mr. Johnson was the suspect and the report was taken by Mr. Howell raised immediate concern within this department because of our internal knowledge of their close relationship.
In a previous internal affairs investigation, it was discovered through interviews and evidence on Mr. Howell’s county issued phone that Mr. Howell had interceded on Mr. Johnson’s behalf to prevent administrative action by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Mr. Howell had been investigated, reprimanded and demoted for this incident and others in March 2019.
Deputy Kent Howell took the report on July 28, 2017 and noted that he was forwarding the case to the Criminal Investigation Division.
On September 9, 2017 Deputy Howell added a supplement to the report that he had spoken to the county attorney and was informed that she would not accept the case as she believed it was a felony.
In reviewing the report in 2020, there were no supplements and no documentation that the alleged suspect was contacted for an interview. The process Deputy Howell took was against policy as he should have delivered the case in writing instead of merely having a phone conversation.
Our preliminary investigation determined that Deputy Howell failed to send the case to investigators and failed to file the report with the District Attorney’s office. Finally, Deputy Howell closed the case without it being properly investigated or reviewed by prosecutors.
When I was appointed in December 2016 the ECSO had an environment allowing more latitude with our deputies and less firm protocols. In July 2017 our command staff started stricter policies to prevent these kinds of situations from happening.
Upon learning of this report in January 2020 our first responsibility was to reach out to the victim and follow up with the County and District Attorneys. Over the subsequent two weeks our investigators obtained current contact information for the victim as she had relocated out of state.
Because of the political climate and the possible coverup I discussed this case with the Texas Rangers for their input. It was following that conversation that I assigned our special investigator, Heath Crossland to follow up with the victim and determine where ECSO protocols failed or were exploited.
I charged Mr. Crossland with two objectives: 1) to determine the status of the victim’s original complaint and 2) to determine, if any, negligence or criminal activity took place within this investigation. Mr. Crossland conducted a phone interview with the victim on Friday, January 31st. Following the interview with the victim, Mr. Crossland felt it was appropriate to re-open the assault case. Mr. Crossland then submitted his report and all supporting documents to District Attorney Alan Nash for his review of the case.
The thoroughness of the DA’s office dictates this case wouldn’t be presented to the Grand Jury for several months following their investigation and review. It is important to point out that neither the ECSO or the DA’s office brought this case to the public’s attention.
This case became public as a result of the victim posting to social media on the evening of February 12. Since the reopening of this investigation in January of 2020 this case was kept confidential and only disclosed to the Texas Rangers, the County Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
Special Investigator Heath Crossland, Investigator David Southerland and Sgt. James Robison conducted themselves with the upmost professionalism and integrity. This case was handed over to the DA’s Office on Feb. 4 for their review.