Texas AG again orders city to release records

Mayor was the ‘anonymous’ texter who sicced cops on Coday

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has determined the City of Odessa erred when they withheld documents showing it was Mayor Javier Joven who texted Police Chief Mike Gerke about a suspicious vehicle and person back in December.

According to police records obtained by the Odessa American under the Texas Public Information Act, Gerke received a text from someone on Dec. 18 stating they had seen someone near Bainbridge Drive in the Country Club area “walking around in and out of houses.”

The texter also told Gerke the man was driving a Ford F250 and provided him with a license plate that returned to Odessan Matt Coday, reports stated.

Officers were unable to find Coday in the area or at his apartment, but contacted him by phone. Coday recorded all the conversations he had with various OPD staff about why they were seeking to speak with him.

The conversations indicate the officers were acting at the behest of someone who had texted Gerke. Coday repeatedly sought to find out who asked the police to find him.

According to the police report, Coday refused to tell officers if he was in the area or not until he was told who called the police on him. He was informed they could not.

“Since there was no crime that had been committed, Cpl. (Taylor) Miley and Sgt. (Jon) Foust were instructed to just do information narratives on the incident,” Captain Darryl Smith wrote in his report.

Coday contacted the Odessa American upset OPD did not investigate the texter for false reporting. Coday is well-known for calling out Joven and councilmembers Denise Swanner and Mark Matta on Facebook. He has also repeatedly accused the trio and Ector County Republican Chairwoman Tisha Crow of supporting controversial figure Casey Gray over Rep. Brooks Landgraf during the last election and also of bullying via Facebook fake profiles.

Coday said he was visiting his parents in Andrews at the time of the call and he believed someone aligned with Crow and the others texted Gerke.

Kris and Tisha Crow live in the area where Coday was reported as being seen.

Coday believes officials aligned with that group could be abusing their positions by not investigating the texter and by shielding his or her identity.

When the Odessa American tried to get the texter’s name via Public Information Act requests, City Attorney Dan Jones declined to provide it and in a letter to the AG seeking an opinion, cited several reasons why he felt he was in the right.

Before the AG responded, the Odessa American came into possession of documents revealing Joven was the texter.

In a letter dated March 21, an attorney with the AG’s Office wrote Jones failed to demonstrate the applicability of one government code to the case and further said public officials and employees who have a duty to report violations of the law can not be considered informants.

In a statement issued through city Communications Director Monica McDaniel Wednesday, Joven did not address Coday’s allegations he was specifically targeted by Joven and others for being outspoken on local politics.

He did say he was “relieved” the situation has been resolved.

“Our initial inclination was to immediately disclose all information, including my communication with Chief Gerke, to the public; however, we were concerned with the legality and possible future implications for citizens who might be in similar situations,” Joven stated.

In the months since the event, some social media posters have applauded Joven for reporting a possible crime regardless of how. Others have ridiculed Joven for not calling 911 and some have interpreted Joven’s actions as an abuse of power.

The Odessa American editorial board called for Joven and Jones’ resignations stating it believes Joven did abuse his power by texting a subordinate in an attempt to cause trouble for a political adversary.

At the behest of Coday’s attorney, Bobby Bland, Ector County District Attorney Dusty Gallivan has asked the Texas Rangers to look into the allegation Joven falsely reported Coday was burglarizing homes and that people at City Hall were abusing their power by hiding that person’s name.

Gallivan has not yet heard back from the Rangers.

Joven did not address those concerns either.

Joven further wrote:

“The City of Odessa would never want to discourage members of the public from reporting suspicious activity to city officials or law enforcement. It was out of this abundance of caution that we sought the opinion of the Attorney General in this matter. While a degree of anonymity is extended to a member of the public at large to protect their identity, we are encouraged that this privilege is not extended to public officials or employees who have duty to report violations of the law.”

After Jones’ original letter to the AG, he sent another letter making a new argument to keep Joven’s name from being released. Jones told the AG that the “complainant was notifying the Police Chief of a possibly (sic) stalking situation.”

The texts received by the OA from the morning of Dec. 18 make no reference to stalking. Nor do the police reports.

The AG did not address that argument in its March 21 letter.

After Jones made that argument, the OA requested all police reports from June 1, 2023 through Feb. 6, 2023 naming Javier Joven, Denise Swanner, Bobby Swanner, Mark Matta, Tisha Crow, Kris Crow or Jeff Russell as complainants and Coday as a person of interest or as a suspect. Specifically, the paper sought reports involving the people listed reporting Coday for stalking or other crimes.

Jones refused to release any such reports, stating he was prohibited from releasing anyone’s entire criminal history. He also argued he didn’t have to because Coday has hired Bland and might pursue litigation.

The AG’s Office has not yet issued an opinion on the matter.