Commissioner’s Trial Under Way
ST. CLAIRSVILLE – An Ohio liquor control board agent on Wednesday testified that he witnessed Belmont County Commissioner Matthew D. Coffland throw a can in the direction of other agents while at Jamboree In The Hills in July.
Coffland, 54, of Shadyside arrived at Belmont County Western Division Court in St. Clairsville on Wednesday morning for the first day of his trial on a charge of felony assault on an officer, a fourth-degree felony.
Visiting Judge Linton D. Lewis Jr. presided while court officials selected a 12-member jury from a pool of 75 candidates in the morning.
Testimony commenced with special prosecutor Thomas Hampton calling his first and second witnesses in the afternoon.
Ohio Liquor Control Board Agent Ron Robinson testified that he was one of the undercover law enforcement officers patrolling a JITH crowd that he estimated to be around 70,000-80,000 people. Robinson said he was about 25 feet from a group that included Coffland when he noticed a man near the commissioner throw some water in the air. Coffland then motioned for that man to move aside before throwing a can at a group of agents nearby, Robinson continued.
“Right after the first gentleman threw the water, I observed Mr. Coffland … appear and then throw an object,” Robinson said. “I know it was a can of something.”
The agent said he did not know whether the can struck anyone.
Robinson testified that a “melee” subsequently ensued when he and about five other agents apprehended Coffland. Robinson also recalled observing Coffland give a group of agents a “blank, angry stare” on the day prior to the alleged crime.
Some of those agents are believed to have been among those who arrived at Coffland’s Tiger Pub in Shadyside one night in April and asked patrons for identification.
Coffland and his son, Matthew B. Coffland, 29, each face three charges brought by the liquor control agents stemming from that incident.
Warren, Pa., resident Alicia Corey testified that she witnessed a man throw a can that struck someone who she later learned was an undercover agent, but she was unable to positively identify Coffland as the man who threw the object.
Corey said she was standing next to a black man she did not know when she heard someone yell a racist slur and then saw a beer can in mid-flight. That can struck the black man, Ohio Liquor Control Board Agent Don Germany, according to Corey.
“I saw a beer can go flying and hit the gentleman in the head,” Corey recalled.
She said she never saw the can leave anyone’s hand, but she saw a man whose arm was completing a throwing motion. She also said she does not know if that man was the one who uttered the racial slur. Beer sprayed on her and several people after the can struck Germany’s head, Corey testified.
She also agreed with Robinson’s description of Coffland’s arrest and said she believed the incident was a fight before she learned the identities of the undercover agents.
Agents escorted Corey to a law enforcement command area after she reported she witnessed the incident. There, she saw a man in handcuffs whom she identified as the same man who she believed threw the can.
On Wednesday, however, she was unable to look at Coffland and say whether he was the same man she had seen in handcuffs on July 20.
Corey also admitted she may have hastily provided a written statement to law enforcement following Coffland’s arrest.
Coffland’s attorney, Patrick Cassidy, cross-examined both witnesses extensively, and Corey became visibly agitated during his questioning of her written statement.
“When I wrote that statement, I was in a hurry to get back to the show,” she snapped. “I mean, Lynyrd Skynyrd was on. If I knew I was going to have to come down for a jury trial, I probably would have wrote it a little better.”
Testimony is expected to resume at 9 a.m. today.
Coffland, a Democrat, is up for re-election on Nov. 6. Coffland’s trial originally was scheduled for Nov. 7, but defense counsel requested that it be held prior to the election.