MORRISTOWN - Matt Coffland entered an initial plea of not guilty to the three misdemeanor obstruction charges he's facing following an April 1 visit to the Tiger Pub in Shadyside by Ohio Liquour Control agents.
"They came into my bar and I announced that they were there," Coffland said early Saturday morning via telephone. "That's really all that I did. And they said that my son and I were obstructing their investigation and charged us.
"I didn't do anything except announce that we were closing.
"It was 2 a.m. and we were about to close anyway."
According to Coffland, the agents began checking his patrons identification, without identifying who they were with or why they were checking.
Coffland also stated that because of this, some of the female patrons in the bar were crying.
Coffland and his son were charged with: Obstructing Inspection or Search of Premises; Obstructing Justice and Obstructing Official Business stemming from the unannounced inspection.
The case was originally heard in front of John Vavra in Belmont County's Eastern Division Court.
But, seeing as Coffland is also a Belmont County Commissioner, Vavra recused himself from the case and it will be heard by Monroe County Judge James Peters. Tom Hampton will serve as special prosecutor for the case. A pretrial conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 31.
Coffland's ordeal then became more complicated Friday following an incident at Jamboree in the Hills.
According to Coffland, he was detained and handcuffed by liquor control agents and charged with disorderly conduct.
Coffland said he's still trying to figure out what it was exactly that he did.
"I was standing on our tarp with my wife, son and some other people and they came over, didn't say a word and grabbed me," Coffland said.
"They drug me through the crowd, handcuffed me and charged me with disorderly conduct and they said that I did something to a liquor agent."
Coffland is up for re-election in November for his commissioner's position and is facing off against independent canidates Doug Longenette and Jerry Echemann.
He didn't point any fingers or insuated any wrong doing on the part of either opposing candidate, but did feel as if the timing of this entire ordeal was suspicious.
"This always seems to happen when I'm up for election," Coffland said. "Things seem to happen that are politically motivated.
"I'm just disappointed and saddened by all that is going on."
Admittadly, running a bar while holding public office does pose a unique set of challenges. They are ones Coffland possibly appears ready to rid himself of.
"I'm about ready to turn it over to my son," he explained. "He's been basically running it the last few years. But legally, I still own it. I haven't done anything to transfer the ownership because of all the costs involved."
"But I'm about ready to hang it up."
Hughes may be reached at email@example.com