Cofflands guilty on one count
BELLAIRE – Matthew D. Coffland and Matthew B. Coffland, owners and operators of The Tiger Pub in Shadyside, were convicted Tuesday on one of three counts of obstructing when they appeared before Judge James Peters and by a jury of their peers.
The jury was limited to six members. Jury questioning saw the elimination of a number of potential jurors but defense co-counsel Patrick Cassidy, representing the elder Coffland, and Kevin Flanagan, representing the younger, gave the OK to proceed with six.
The pair faced three charges stemming from an April 1, 2012, incident at The Tiger Pub on Central Avenue in Shadyside when Ohio liquor control agents conducted an undercover investigation on the premises after receiving reports of underage drinking taking place.
According to the prosecution and its two witnesses, Agents Sam Love and Christopher Jones:
- The agents, along with Agent James Eliason, whom Love and Jones both testified waited in the vehicle initially, entered The Tiger Pub approximately 1 a.m., April 1.
- After monitoring a female believed to be drinking under age, Love approached, carded and subsequently handcuffed the young woman, who admitted at approximately 1:35 a.m. she was underage.
- Jones attempted to question another female when he was interrupted by Matthew B. Coffland, questioned as to why he was asking the young woman for her card. The two had a brief, somewhat heated discussion before Jones pushed back Coffland after he didn’t comply with a request to move back.
- During this time, Matthew D. Coffland told his employee working the disc jockey booth to announce first that liquor control agents were in the building and later to clear the building as the bar was closing.
- Love said that because of the announcement, he felt his safety was in jeopardy and went behind the bar. Love and Jones both testified that because of the announcement, numerous patrons left the bar at once, hindering the agents’ investigation.
After all had quieted down that night, Jones testified that he again had talked with Matthew D. Coffland about the civil citations he was given for obstruction. Love filled out the official paperwork and he and Jones submitted it to the prosecutor’s office to see what, if any, criminal charges would be filed.
The three charges both Cofflands faced were: obstructing inspection or search of premises prohibited, obstructing justice and obstructing official business. All three are misdemeanor charges.
The defense took issue with a few points of the agents’ testimonies:
- The young woman drinking underage was handcuffed and detained before being released. Neither Coffland was detained.
- The official report stated that the younger Coffland repeatedly asked Jones what he was doing and to leave the premises. It did not, however, state that Coffland told the young woman whom Jones was questioning not to show Jones her identification. Jones testified to this.
During cross-examination, Flanagan got Love to admit that the elder Coffland’s decision to announce the liquor control’s presence could have been done to protect the safety of all involved and that there was no way to prove it was done solely to alert any potential underage drinkers that it was time to vacate the premises.
The defense called several witnesses, including the disc jockey, a bartender, a regular patron who was present that evening, along with both Cofflands.
Defense witnesses testified that:
- The first announcement made was that the party was over for the night, followed then by the announcement about liquor control’s presence. It was also testified that this was done after Coffland became alerted to his son’s confrontation with Jones.
- The elder Coffland stated the events took place closer to 2 a.m., and stated that since last call usually is at 2:10 a.m., this was a good opportunity to get everyone moving toward the exit and to begin the clean-up process.
- Matthew D. Coffland stated that Agent Eliason was not outside in the vehicle until later entering on Love’s insistence, rather was out on The Tiger Pub’s outdoor deck, carding patrons outside. Coffland testified that Eliason told himself this personally as to his previous whereabouts before entering the building.
- Matthew B. Coffland testified that Jones didn’t display his badge or identify himself until after the confrontation and pushing Coffland back. Coffland said at that point, he told Jones that the issue could have been avoided if he had only identified himself. Coffland stated he again told Jones that during their brief conversation when being issued the civil charges. No statement about Jones’ and Coffland’s second conversation as found in the official police report.
During cross-examination, Special Prosecutor Thomas Hampton took exception with Coffland’s statement that he didn’t know that Jones was a liquor control agent, stating that only one of two people would be inquiring about identification: bar staff or liquor control agents. Coffland agreed with that statement.
Peters, who is from Monroe County and presiding over the case on special assignment because of Matt D. Coffland’s position as Belmont County commissioner, said that probation officer Jason Harter will be in contact with the two defendants and sentencing will take place at a later date. Like Peters, Hampton too is primarily based in Monroe County and was specially assigned to the case.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.