Coral Gables police chief exchanged friendly texts with a suspect: a UM football coach

The police chief of Coral Gables exchanged over a dozen text messages with a University of Miami football coach amid an investigation into allegations that the coach exposed himself to an employee on the school’s cleaning staff in 2022.

The text messages, an unusually close exchange between a police chief and the suspect in a criminal matter, show Police Chief Ed Hudak arranging a private meeting with the coach, who was at the time the suspect in a “lewd and lascivious offense” case, according to a police report.

The texts were revealed in a December report from the Baltimore Sun, which published an investigation into the coach, Joshua Gattis, who joined the University of Maryland football team as an offensive coordinator after he was fired from UM last year.

The messages between the chief and the coach spotlight the cozy, decades-long relationship between Hudak and the university — his alma mater — where he serves as a mentor and security adviser for the Miami Hurricanes, a role that includes traveling with the football team on chartered flights to away games. Hudak said he is not paid for his involvement with the university, which is the largest employer in Coral Gables.

The incident took place in November 2022, with the cleaning staff employee reporting to UM police that a man on campus had exposed himself to her in a restroom after beckoning her inside. Hudak initiated a text message conversation with Gattis, the suspect in the case, after the Coral Gables Police Department took over the investigation. The texts mostly concerned the coordination of phone calls and a meeting between the two.

In a sit-down interview discussing the text messages with the Miami Herald, Hudak said he was coordinating a meeting with Gattis so he could tell the coach to meet with detectives. He said he reassigned the case to the Coral Gables Police Department after learning that UM police had initially filed a suspicious incident report rather than treating the matter as a sex crime investigation, which would have automatically triggered involvement from Coral Gables police, Hudak said.

The Coral Gables Police Department oversees UM’s police department, whose officers are sworn in by the Gables police chief. Coral Gables police conduct all violent crime investigations, according to city records.

“Once it was relayed to me that this might have been mishandled, I wanted our people to dig in,” said Hudak, who showed the Herald his phone with the text exchange with Gattis, saying he had no regrets about how the matter was handled.

“I don’t have anything to hide with those text messages,” Hudak said. “I don’t have anything to hide with the way the case was handled once I found out that it was mishandled in the beginning, end of story. I would handle it again the same way.”

READ MORE: Miami offensive coordinator and former Broyles winner Josh Gattis fired after one season

Gattis was not charged in the case. An attorney for Gattis did not respond to an email or a phone message from the Herald.

Hudak and a representative of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office had slightly different explanations for why the case wasn’t prosecuted.

Hudak said Coral Gables police consulted with the State Attorney’s Office about the matter and that the office indicated “they were not going to move forward,” Hudak said. The police department said it could not immediately provide the name of the employee that it consulted with.

The State Attorney’s Office told the Herald it had no records responsive to the case. Spokesman Ed Griffith said that’s likely because police wrote in their report that “this case is closed” and that the employee did not want to pursue charges.

“We wouldn’t open a case that police have closed,” Griffith said. “I guarantee you we never opened a case.”

Nearly two months after the Baltimore Sun report, news of Hudak’s involvement in the case has percolated to a politically divided Coral Gables, where two competing political factions are arm-wrestling for control.

Hudak, who is no stranger to political controversy, pointed to the Coral Gables police union — which is currently negotiating its contract with the city — as a likely source for the current discourse about his messages with Gattis.

Christopher Challenger, president of the Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police, said the union is not responsible and that he learned about the text messages from the Baltimore Sun article. Challenger, however, said it was unusual for the chief to involve himself in an investigation and contact a suspect directly.

“In no way should a chief of police who works for that university be talking to an alleged offender of a crime,” Challenger said. “He’s the chief of police. He doesn’t interject himself into investigations. Especially investigations where there’s a conflict of interest.”

Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator Josh Gattis runs drills with his team at the University of Miami’s Greentree Practice Fields on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla.
Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator Josh Gattis runs drills with his team at the University of Miami’s Greentree Practice Fields on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla.

Police report allegations

According to the police report in the case, the UM cleaning staff employee saw a man enter a restroom on campus in the late afternoon hours of Nov. 2, 2022. The man then exited the bathroom and “nodded to Victim with his head for her to come inside.”

The report notes that the employee, whose name is redacted from the document, does not speak English and that she thought the suspect was indicating there was something wrong in the restroom. She wrote in a sworn statement that day that she was initially hesitant to enter.

But the employee did go into the restroom, which is when “the male stepped back from the urinal and turned facing [redacted] while masturbating,” according to the police report.

The man then mentioned something to her “while shaking his penis,” according to the police report.

She immediately reported the incident to campus police, saying that she had seen the man on several occasions and that they greeted each other by nodding. She told police she believed he worked at the university and that she had seen him driving a golf cart on campus.

According to the report, surveillance cameras captured “footage which is consistent with the Victim accounts.” It showed a man, later identified as Gattis, and the employee in the vicinity of the restroom within a minute of each other.

About a week later, the employee was shown a photo lineup but was unable to positively identify the suspect, according to the police report, which stated that she “appeared to be emotional while viewing the line-up, and stated several times ‘I don’t see the man.’”

But after Coral Gables police took over the case a few days later, the employee was able to identify the suspect from the same photo lineup. She told police she was too afraid to identify him the first time.

In a written statement on the date of the incident, the woman suggested that she wanted to press charges. A later report from Coral Gables police indicates that as of Nov. 15, the employee did not want to press charges, and Hudak said that she said as much in an interview with police. However, a police department spokeswoman said the woman declined to sign a non-prosecution agreement.

Text messages between Hudak and Gattis

Hudak said Gattis’ role as a public figure factored into how he handled the case.

“The coordinated effort was to have him come in and meet with the detectives, instead of us showing up in front of his employer and saying, ‘Okay, we need to interview you,’” Hudak said.

Hudak said he knew Gattis through the team but that the two were not close. Because Hudak had Gattis’ contact information in his phone already, he decided to text him directly. He said he only initiated the conversation with Gattis because the detective told Hudak he was trying to track down Gattis, and Hudak was aware of the coach’s recruiting travel schedule.

Between Dec. 11, 2022, and Jan. 12, 2023, Hudak exchanged 19 text messages with Gattis, taking other communications offline, leaving no record of what they discussed one-on-one.

In the first message, Hudak contacted Gattis and told the coach that he wanted to “catch up with you on something.”

“This is my cell so you can hit me up here,” Hudak added.

The pair then went back and forth trying to arrange a call.

Screenshots of text messages between Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak and former University of Miami offensive coordinator Joshua Gattis.
Screenshots of text messages between Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak and former University of Miami offensive coordinator Joshua Gattis.

Gattis texted Hudak on Dec. 14, letting the chief know he was back in town. Hudak wrote back that he was in a meeting but said that he would call Gattis so they could meet up somewhere.

Two weeks later, Gattis reached out to the chief.

“Hey Happy Holidays, do you have a moment to speak?” Gattis wrote.

Hudak responded about an hour later, telling Gattis to “call me when you can.”

Then on Jan. 4, Hudak told Gattis “Happy new year” and asked the coach to “Give me a holler.”

Shortly after, Hudak texted Gattis to “Gimme a few” — implying that Gattis had called him. Gattis responded: “ok sounds good.”

Two days later, Gattis texted the chief, telling him he had hired an attorney. Hudak responded asking if the detective working the investigation should call Gattis or his attorney. Gattis responded: “me is fine and I can have him reach out to det.”

On Jan. 12 — the last day in the text exchange — Gattis asked Hudak if he had time for a question. The chief asked for a few minutes to respond because he was in a meeting with his boss.

Four days later, Gattis took a polygraph test, saying that on the date of the incident, he had been using the urinal when the woman walked in, though he denied motioning her into the restroom or intentionally exposing himself. The test did not indicate any deception, and his criminal defense attorney turned the results over to police.

The company that conducted the polygraph, Jurney & Associates Inc., has contracted with the city of Coral Gables for preemployment polygraph services since at least 2018, according to documents from the city’s procurement department.

Hudak said he did not give Gattis advice about the polygraph or anything else during their meeting.

He said he did not recall the exact date that the conversation between the two of them took place. Hudak initially said during the sit-down interview with the Herald that the conversation with Gattis happened face-to-face, possibly at the university. In a subsequent phone call two days later, Hudak told the Herald he didn’t recall if the conversation was in person or over the phone.

The cleaning staff employee’s inability to identify the suspect on the first try created a “credibility issue” that made the case hard to prosecute, Hudak said, especially because the alleged incident took place inside a restroom where there are no cameras.

Hudak said his department’s investigation included extensive surveillance of Gattis, including his interactions with the employee. He said the employee wasn’t avoiding Gattis and that “she was going about her business” after she reported the incident.

He emphasized that Coral Gables police took the case seriously but that ultimately, “there wasn’t enough there to prosecute.”

Gattis was “relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator’’ by UM in late January 2023.

A conflict of interest?

While Hudak described Gattis as initially seeming “apprehensive” when Hudak reached out because the chief wouldn’t say what the purpose of the meeting was, the pair eventually linked up to chat.

“I was like, ‘Listen, this is what’s going on, you need to meet with my detectives.’ That’s it. And it was no more, no less than that,” Hudak said.

Hudak explained his involvement with the university in a 2017 memo written to the city’s then-Public Safety Director Frank Fernandez. Hudak wrote that in his role as a mentor, he has helped student-athletes with issues relating to family, school and post-college plans but does not insert himself in criminal matters.

“I have been very clear with the student athletes and coaches as well as staff members that I cannot and will not give any advice or opinions about any criminal issues that any student athlete or any one from the athletic department could be involved in,” Hudak wrote in the memo. “I have clearly stated this on many occasions over the years as it would be a clear conflict of interest.”

Speaking to the Herald, Hudak said he has remained “true to that memo that I sent in 2017” and emphasized that he never gave Gattis advice.

Generally speaking, Hudak described himself as an involved police chief who wants to be looped in when there is a “newsworthy case for the department.” He added that it’s “not uncommon” for him to contact a suspect directly.

“Have I made phone calls to other people that need to turn themselves in or something like that? If I know them, yeah, absolutely,” Hudak said. “Doesn’t change the outcome.”