ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Belmont County Commissioner Matthew D. Coffland was acquitted Friday on a felony charge of assault on a peace officer.
The seven-man, five-woman jury took just under an hour to reach their verdict. Their decision came after three days of testimony, during which 21 witnesses were called to the stand.
Agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit charged Coffland on July 20 with throwing a full "can or bottle" containing an "unknown fluid" at Agent Donald Germany while at Jamboree In The Hills in Morristown. The can struck Germany in the back of head, and the liquid splashed other agents, according to the citation.
Coffland, himself, was among 12 witnesses for the defense providing testimony Friday.
The first witness of the day, Belmont County sheriff's Deputy Glenn Moore, testified that at about the same time Coffland was being arrested by agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit, deputies were close by arresting a second person for throwing a can just before the start of Lynryd Skynyrd's performance. That can had hit a person on stage and damaged equipment, according to Moore.
After this, the crowd was warned about throwing items.
Coffland, his wife Lisa and nine others with them at JITH all testified Friday to the events as they saw them that night prior to Coffland's arrest. All denied seeing Coffland throw an object, become violent or yell racial slurs as had been reported by a witness, Alicia Corey of Warren, Pa.
Corey had pointed to Coffland at the JITH venue, identifying him as the person who had thrown the can. She was unable to identify him in court this week. Some agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit testified they recognized Coffland as a bar owner whom they had cited earlier this year for misdemeanor violations on April 1.
Coffland's attorney, Patrick Cassidy of Wheeling, noted Coffland had spoken critically of the agents to the media the day prior to his July 20 arrest at JITH, and he asserted agents had acted in retaliation.
Coffland's friends and family testified Friday that the agents forcibly came onto their tarped area in the JITH venue, knocking one of them, Alyssa Kimble, to the ground. All said Coffland was standing close to his wife, and some said the couple was dancing together at the time of his arrest.
"I was dancing with my wife ... and trying to have a good time," Coffland said from the witness stand. "The next thing I know, I felt a pull - I thought it was one of the clowns behind me. They cuffed me, and I thought, 'I know that feel.'"
The friends and family testifying indicated they were initially confused about why the agents were there, and about why Coffland was being taken away.
Lisa Coffland also testified that she was dancing with her husband in the moments before agents came upon their tarped area.
"When it starts getting darker at Jamboree In The Hills, people go to their significant other," she said. "His arms were around me, and I heard people start yelling."
Lisa Coffland continued that her husband's hands were at her waist when liquor control agents pulled him away to cuff him.
Brian Schramm, a bartender at Coffland's bar, testified that he forcefully emptied a bottle of water into the air seconds before agents converged on their tarps. He said a flashlight then shone into his face.
"If I hadn't shaken out that water bottle, I think this wouldn't have happened," Schramm said. "I probably splashed everybody around me. I didn't know there were agents behind me. I have done it before."
Cassidy entered as evidence photos of the group at JITH, which show them all drinking out of cans held in insulated cozies featuring the words "Matt Coffland for Commissioner." All testified they and Coffland were using the cozies that night.
Others with Coffland at JITH who took the stand Friday included his son, Matthew B. Coffland, Shelley Cooper, Ryan Berry, Richard Mayeres, Lori Mayeres, Lisa Palmer and Ryan Holmes.
Coffland still faces the misdemeanor charges brought by Ohio Investigative Unit enforcement agents on April 1. These include knowingly or recklessly hindering or obstructing an agent or employee of the Ohio Division of Liquor Control; knowingly - with purpose to hinder the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for a crime - warning other persons of impending discovery or apprehension; and knowingly and without privilege - with the purpose to prevent, obstruct or delay the performance by a public official of an authorized act - performing an act that hampered or impeded a public official in the performance of the public official's duties.
Court action regarding the misdemeanor charges was placed on hold until after the felony charge was decided.
Coffland seeks re-election on Nov. 6 and would not have been permitted by law to hold public office if convicted of the felony.