Prosecution rests its case in Coffland trial
ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The trial of Commissioner Matt Coffland is continuing today, and Thursday’s proceedings ended with the state presenting its evidence and the defense asking that the case be dismissed.
Attorney Patrick Cassidy, representing Coffland with attorney Tom Meyers, made the request at the close of the day. He said the prosecution’s only civilian eyewitness, Alicia Corey of Pennsylvania, had been unable to restate with certainty her observations on the night of the July assault.
“This is the state’s primary witness upon which it intends to prove Mr. Coffland guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Cassidy said, adding that while many agents testified, only Agent Ronald Robinson actually claimed to witness an object being thrown, and he could not say where it landed.
He also pointed out perceived inconsistencies in the agents’ testimony and voiced doubt that the state can meet its burden of proof.
Special Prosecutor Tom Hampton countered that the case was a matter of evidence, and he believed enough had been presented. He said Corey had been certain at the time of swearing her statement in July. He added that the act of throwing an item constituted an attempt at assault.
Special Judge Linton Lewis denied Cassidy’s request. The defense will make its case today.
With the testimony of the two eyewitnesses on record, the remainder of Thursday’s proceedings saw insinuation from both prosecution and defense as they called on agents to recount the night of his arrest and the events that led up to it and speculated on the motivations and states of mind of the agent and Coffland.
Agent Donald Germany, investigator with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, who was struck in the head with a beer can while on undercover duty at Jamboree In the Hills July 20, took the stand, as did his field supervisor Kellette Shannon, who took Corey’s statement.
Germany and Shannon related an undercover visit to Coffland’s Shadyside bar in June, where Coffland may have identified them as officers. They observed no violations but went to a nearby bar where they assisted in making six arrests. Coffland was seen driving past the group and returning to his bar.
Germany recounted the July 20 events. After identifying himself to check the identification of some possibly underage drinkers, he then stood with other agents. He said he observed a man he later learned was Coffland with another individual.
“I saw two men pointing in my direction. They looked angry,” he said, adding that he then turned toward the other agents. “I just felt something hard hit me on the top and the back of my head.”
At that point, Robinson pointed a flashlight beam on Coffland.
Shannon was one of several agents sprayed by beer from the thrown can and who assisted Germany in preparing the statement.
Germany and Shannon said that during his initial processing at the agents’ mobile command unit at Jamboree, Coffland heard the charge against him and asked who he had hit. When Germany said himself, Coffland said he was sorry.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Schwarck, on duty at the jail testified that Coffland seemed slightly intoxicated.
Assistant Agent in Charge Robert Anderson, who was among the officials who made the arrest, gave his account and testified that he had prominently displayed his shield. He added that it was procedure for all agents to advance into a crowd together when making an arrest.
His wife, Agent Michelle Anderson, took Corey’s statement and was present when she identified the handcuffed Coffland as the man who threw the can. Cassidy noted that Corey had been drinking during the festival.
Assistant Agent in Charge Sam Love, who was involved in the April incident, defended the agents’ behavior at Coffland’s bar in April. He stated that they had identified themselves when carding suspected underage drinkers. He said Coffland acted irresponsibly and created a dangerous situation when he announced the presence of liquor control agents. Love added that Coffland interfered with official business by prematurely closing the bar.
Love was also among agents working with Germany and Shannon when Coffland allegedly observed them.
Love denied holding any personal animosity towards Coffland. He added that he had not heard Coffland’s public criticism of the agents in a radio interview until after the Jamboree incident.
Cassidy criticized the agents’ zeal in apprehending Coffland, which he said resulted in festival goers being pushed aside and property damaged. He said this was behavior normally reserved for suspects’ actively resisting arrest.
Supervisor Erik Lockhart, Athens office, denied that agents were present at Jamboree specifically to arrest Coffland. He said he doubted any agents beside the Andersons, who are Belmont County residents, would have been aware of the radio interview.
He recalled the July 20 incident, saying that he was among those splashed by beer. He said Corey pointed out Coffland. Lockhart said he recognized Coffland looking at the agents and making what could be a throwing or dismissing motion with his hand. Lockhart said he then gave to order to arrest.
“I could tell it was Mr. Coffland,” he said and added that he pointed to Coffland and asked Corey if he was one who threw the object. He said she confirmed. “I said, ‘go get Matt Coffland, he just threw something at one of the agents.'”
At about that time, Robinson pointed his flashlight at Coffland and other agents converged on him.
During cross-examination of the agents, Cassidy inquired about the report process, noting that the agents met and compared their experiences after the fact.
Cassidy also noted that the nine agents listed did not include one Chris Jones. Coffland family members said Jones had participated in the arrest, behaving in a hostile manner, and had had prior unfriendly altercations with the Cofflands at the Shadyside bar. None of the agents who took the stand could positively say whether Jones took part in the arrest.
During further cross-examination, agents said they were permitted to consume alcohol to maintain their cover.
Cassidy also criticized the agents for not attempting to find the can or otherwise gather evidence. He added that Coffland was cooperative and showed no belligerence when agents arrested him.
Defense was scheduled to present its case, beginning at 9 a.m. today.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.