BELLAIRE - A jury convicted Belmont County Commissioner Matthew D. Coffland and his son, Matthew B. Coffland, of obstructing official business Tuesday as a result of an incident at their Tiger Pub bar in Shadyside.
The jury, which typically would consist of eight jurors, was limited to six members. Several potential jurors were eliminated during questioning designed to seat an unbiased panel, and defense co-council Patrick Cassidy, representing the elder Coffland, and Kevin Flanagan, representing the younger, agreed to proceed with six members.
The trial was held before visiting Judge Jim Peters.
The Cofflands each faced three charges stemming from an April 1 incident at the Tiger Pub on Central Avenue in Shadyside. Ohio Investigative Unit agents visited the bar to investigate reports of underage drinking taking place at the establishment.
The prosecution called two witnesses, Agents Sam Love and Christopher Jones. The agents testified that they, along with Agent James Eliason, entered the Tiger Pub about 1 a.m. April 1. After monitoring a female they believed to be drinking and under 21, Love approached, carded and subsequently handcuffed the female, who allegedly admitted she was underage. This occurred about 1:35 a.m., they said.
Jones attempted to question another female but said he was interrupted by the younger Coffland, who asked why Jones was asking the young lady for her identification. The two had a brief, somewhat heated discussion before Jones pushed Coffland away from him after Coffland didn't comply with a request to move back.
During this time, they testified, the elder Coffland told an employee working the disc jockey booth to announce that liquor control agents were in the building and for patrons to clear the building because the bar was closing. Love said 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.
As a result of the incident, both Cofflands were charged with three misdemeanors: obstructing inspection or search of premises, obstructing justice and obstructing official business.
The defense called several witnesses, including the disc jockey, a bartender, a regular patron who was present that evening and both Cofflands.
The elder Coffland testified that the events of April 1 took place closer to 2 a.m. than the agents indicated, and he said since last call usually is at 2:10 a.m., the agents' presence provided a good opportunity to get everyone moving toward the exit and to begin the cleanup process.
His son testified that Jones didn't display his badge or identify himself until after the confrontation between them. The younger Coffland said at that point, he told Jones the issue could have been avoided if he had identified himself.
Peters, who is from Monroe County and presiding over the case on special assignment because of Matthew D. Coffland's position as a county commissioner, said probation officer Jason Harter will contact the two defendants. Sentencing will take place at a later date.
Commissioner Coffland also was accused in July of throwing a beer can at Ohio Investigate Unit Agent Donald Germany at Jamboree In The Hills.
Following his Oct. 19 acquittal on a felony charge of assault on a peace officer, Coffland was re-elected to a second term as commissioner in the Nov. 2 general election.