Sheriff offers reward for identity of man behind ‘fake’ profile.
Makenzie Plusnick- Editor-in-Chief
Erath County Sheriff Matt Coates is offering a $1,000 reward on his re-election Facebook page to anyone who can prove who is behind what he considers to be a fake account created to post negatively about him.
Coates posted a video about Keller on Oct. 20, captioned “FAKE PROFILES ARE FOR RUSSIANS!” The video is a skit set in the Old West where Coates puts up wanted posters, offering a reward to anyone who turns in a person using a Facebook account named James Keller.
Keller has posted about Coates in the past.
In the video, Coates says, “I got $1,000 to give to you, James Keller, if you will show up at my campaign headquarters… or $1,000 to anyone who can prove who that fake profile belongs to. It stops today.”
The video has 263 reactions, 76 comments and 144 shares as of Nov. 6.
Keller says the profile is not fake.
“My profile has been active for over three years. You can see posts that are public back to 2018,” Keller said in an interview over Facebook Messenger. “I don’t have a lot of friends on there and I locked it down so people can’t see a lot.”
In a comment on Coates’ video, Lynacy Wade wrote, “He’s not even a fake person. It’s a real dude. Real profile.”
“I grew up with his daughter and used to be very close to his ex-daughter-in-law and I used to be babysat with his current wifr [sic],” Wade said.
Keller believes that the video is “absolutely is a form of retaliation” for him posting on Facebook about Coates. In the past, Keller has posted about a lawsuit against Coates.
“He could have offered a reward in a simple post. When he drew his weapon it’s worrisome… I feel very unsafe right now,” Keller said. “I’ve locked my profile down even more and will probably delete it eventually.”
Keller has reached out to speak with Coates in the past.
“I asked to speak with him before I ever posted anything, and he never replied. Now he wants to meet and does it in a threatening manner. That’s not right,” Keller said. “…All I wanted were … answers. He’s never once reached out to me personally. It’s sad we can’t question someone whose paycheck we pay.”
Kent Howell, the Erath County sheriff candidate running against Coates, believes the man playing Keller in the video is meant to look like himself.
“Everything in that video has to do with me,” Howell said.
In one scene in the video, a man sits with his back to the camera in front of a computer. A sex blow-up doll, a framed photo of actress Rosie O’Donnell, a framed photo of the cartoon character Baby Huey, license plates, fireman gear and other objects surround the computer.
“That right there is supposed to be my wife,” Howell said about the framed photo of the actress. “It’s just wrong.”
Howell also said that his campaign sign can be seen in the video, folded in half. He pointed to other objects in the video that he believed were in reference to him.
“License plates, because I ran a license plate. I’m a fireman… People used to call me Baby Huey, and a blow-up doll just being creepy,” Howell explained.
Howell believes the video was not appropriate for Coates to release.
“The bad thing about that video is…he’s an elected official,” Howell said. “To do that is embarrassing to the community. He wants to call out somebody for their First Amendment rights.”
“There is a person behind those accounts, and they are free to say what they want, regardless of if I agree with them or if it’s the truth. As a law enforcement officer, I respect our citizens’ right to free speech, and will never threaten to take that away,” Howell continued.
During the video, Coates also pulled out a gun for a stand-off against the man behind the alleged fake profile. Howell believes Coates’ actions were “distasteful.”
“Pulling your weapon while wearing your badge, acting in an official capacity, in a spoof video like that makes a mockery of our profession,” Howell said. “It’s also not a joke to ever pull your weapon. We are trained to pull our weapon only to eliminate a threat. I am not threatened by words or accusations.”
Keller also felt that Coates pulling out a weapon was inappropriate.
“Regardless of who he’s aiming the visor to, it’s ridiculous to make a mockery of pulling your weapon. He’s more less saying if anyone questions him or challenges him, he will shoot. He’s got his sheriff badge on so (he) is acting in official capacity,” Keller said.
Coates explained that he did not mean for the video to be taken seriously.
“I hope they take it for what it was and produced the same amount of seriousness that the fake profile deserved. It was parody that showcased the ridiculous practice of fake profiles,” Coates said.
Coates explains the pulling of the gun.
“The pulling of the gun was a direct opening scene from the show ‘Gunsmoke’ as were the characters in the video. I can assure the strictest of firearm safety was adhered to in filming the scene,” Coates explained. “Myself and two other firearm experts inspected the gun on the set and assured it was unloaded and at no time was it pointed at any human being or animal. No threat was intended, rather to bring attention to the trials of defending oneself against a fictious character.”
He made the video to call attention to “fake profiles.”
“Fake profiles often spread partial truths laced with incomplete details and lack full context. Sometimes they just lie. Some may feel the need for anonymity in expressing concerns. However, social media slander of one’s character, career and family is not the way of a civilized society,” Coates said.
Coates challenged Texan News “to pursue actual journalist content” and find Keller and interview him, as well as to several other actions including asking Keller why he has not collected the monetary reward or made arrangements with the Dublin Police Department to meet with Coates’ campaign staff at a safe location to pick up the reward, and determining if Keller is the person behind his account.
Both Keller and Howell believe that the man in front of the computer was Chris Brooks, Erath County fire chief. Brooks denies that he was in the video.
Keller sent a photo of himself holding a paper with the date printed on it to Texan News. He asked to remain private.
Coates’ video can be found on TexanNews.net homepage.
Additional reporting by Sarah Hayner.