John Coffin heard his wife Cynthia screaming. After racing to the garage, he saw her prone, agonized form pinned to the floor by two armed strangers who had violated the sanctity of his home.
Despite the fact that he was an unarmed, 55-year-old heart patient, Coffin did the right thing: He beat the intruders to within an inch of their lives.
As it happens, the thugs who assaulted Coffin's wife, Cynthia (a nurse with no criminal record) were deputy sheriffs who had visited the home to serve John with a restraining order filed in a landlord-tenant dispute last April. Coffin had been served the same papers a few days earlier.
When Cynthia answered the doorbell and was greeted by deputy James Lutz with the TRO papers, she told him that John was in the bathroom. She then shut the door – which is exactly the right thing to do, given that police are now trained to seize on any opportunity to conduct a “consent search” -- and went to find her husband. She also began to lock other doors and close blinds; this is also entirely appropriate.
In his report, Lutz claimed that Cynthia was “obstructing his lawful duties.” In fact, she was protecting her family's rights. Lutz didn't have a search warrant, and she was determined not to let him confect “probable cause.”
Why were the Coffins so leery of police? Like an increasing number of honest, unassuming Americans, the couple had noticed that the police have turned feral. Their knowledge of this unfortunate fact is not derived from headlines, but rather a product of an unjustified assault John experienced in October 2003 after an unnecessary traffic stop conducted by a 24-year-old deputy named Grant Steube, who claimed that there was a problem with the license tag on John's car.
At the time of the stop, John was in his sister's driveway. He got out and demanded to know what the problem was. Steube ordered John back into his car and then – without legal cause or provocation – pepper-sprayed the then-52-year-old man, and then beat him repeatedly with a metal club called an asp.
Steube later admitted – gee golly Ned, oopsie-daisy, my bad, and all that – to misreading the license tag. As is always the case in such incidents, it was the victim of state-authorized violence who was charged with “resisting arrest” and “obstruction” of a police officer, but those charges were dropped. Steube, the assailant, was never charged or sanctioned in any way, (reg. required) and a lawsuit filed by the Coffins was summarily dismissed.
Given this history, it's understandable that the Coffins would treat an encounter with the Sheriff's department the way they did during the incident last April.
When John didn't materialize at the front door as quickly as Deputy Lutz thought he should, he summoned Deputy Stacy Ferris (a she-police, and hence useless). The two of them decided to invade the Coffin property without a warrant, by walking into the couple's garage. When Cynthia confronted them about their crime, she was threatened with arrest if she displayed “further resistance” -- a characterization containing a lie, since she had not “resisted” anything.
As she turned to go back into the house, Cynthia was seized by the deputies and placed “under arrest,” which in this case means she was assaulted and kidnapped without legal cause. When she struggled to get away, the deputies threw her to the garage floor, dislocating her arm. Her screams summoned John, who dispatched Deputy Stacy with a blow to the face, then grabbed her Taser and used it as a club on Deputy Lutz. After a brief struggle, Lutz pulled his gun and arrested John.
Asked by columnist Tom Lyons of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune how the Sheriff's Department could justify the invasion of Coffin's home and the violent arrest of his wife in the absence of a warrant or predicate crime, department spokesman Chuck Lesaltato simply muttered that the deputies “felt they had cause” and “felt they had been obstructed.”
“It is all about their feelings, it seems,” Lyons wrote in disgust. “But how much will deputies and prosecutors take into account the feelings of the husband who found two cops pinning his wife to the floor because she had the nerve to lock them out of her home?”
Last week, in a ruling as unexpected as it is uncommon and badly overdue, Circuit Judge Rick De Furia threw out all but one of the six charges against John Coffin (the surviving charge dealt with taking the Taser from one of the deputies) and reduced his sentence to the eight days he had served in jail and $358 in court costs.
“Law enforcement was responsible for the chain of events here,” ruled De Furia. The critical fact is that the deputies “broke the law” by invading the garage without warrant or probable cause; they committed an armed home invasion, and criminally assaulted an innocent woman.
“What took place in the house was unfortunate,” concluded De Furia, “but Mr. Coffin ... had a right to resist.”
Given the nature of the crime committed against his home, Coffin had a moral and legal right to gun down the invaders, irrespective of the costumes they were wearing. Given that I prefer not to see anybody violently killed for any reason, I admire and appreciate the restraint – and the courage -- he displayed in merely beating them severely.
The right to resist is what separates a citizen from a slave. God bless John Coffin for exercising that right, and Judge De Furia for recognizing and protecting it.
And let us pray that, somehow, the right to resist illicit state violence will likewise be recognized in the case of Cory Maye, before that young man is murdered by the State of Mississippi for the supposed crime of defending his home.
(Note: Part II of the Rio, Wisconsin story will be posted later.)
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