Police: Would-be cop killer threatened prison guard

Sean Philip Cotter

The man charged in January with planning to murder his former girlfriend and then the waves of cops who would come to arrest him is again charged with threatening law enforcement — this time from behind bars.

Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr.

The new charges against Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., 57, formerly of Dundalk, Maryland, and Loganville, were filed Sept. 21 by state police; he's charged with misdemeanor counts of making terroristic threats and institutional vandalism, as well as being cited for criminal mischief, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.

State police say that on Sept. 6, Cofflin was in York County Prison, where he remains pending trial on attempted murder and terrorism charges. Around 2:15 p.m. that day, guard Garry Bowser made Cofflin take down a piece of paper he had put up over the window of his jail pod, documents state.

Bowser told police that Cofflin shouted various epithets at him before telling the guard to come into his cell so Cofflin could snap his neck and kill him, according to documents.

As Cofflin spoke, he punched the glass, shattering it, police say. As Cofflin was taken out of his cell, he allegedly told Bowser: "I'll get you in the hall."

Evidence boards are displayed during a news conference regarding the arrest and charges being filed against Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., at the Pennsylvania State Police Department in Loganville on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

Two days later, state police interviewed Cofflin, who talked about why he did what he did, police say.

"When I struck the window, I was attempting to kill him," state police quote Cofflin as saying. "I did a palm strike and still have the bruise. ... I wanted to shove his nose bone up into his brain. I told him I wouldn't hesitate to do it again."

Trooper Matthew Eicher, who filed the criminal charges, said Cofflin told him he "harbored ill will against" the guard because Cofflin "feels he is at war with the York County government."

Neither that refrain nor a willingness to elaborate on potential crimes to police is new from Cofflin, police allege: In a news conference in January, when state police were announcing charges of attempted murder and terrorism against him, state police Capt. Adam Kosheba said that Cofflin "was going to war with police."

'He was going to war with police'

Background: “Disgruntled” by court rulings against him last year, Cofflin had been planning a massive attack on law enforcement, state police have said. Cofflin, who at one point lived just minutes from the state police barracks in Loganville, had been building improvised explosive devices from propane tanks and an AR-15 rifle, piece by piece with parts bought online, according to police. He was planning to use those to murder his ex-girlfriend, who still lived in the house they once shared and then kill the many state troopers who showed up to arrest him, police allege.

Police say he had bought several propane tanks, and he told them he was going to coat them in Tannerite so they would explode when he shot them. He told them he was going to put them around his property and blow them up, killing the cops who came to get him, police allege.

His anger stemmed from a protection-from-abuse order his his then-girlfriend of 20 years was granted in August 2015 after she said he beat her and threw hot water on her. He began telling people he was looking for a way to "take her out" — that he was “looking for a gun, but an ax would be faster,” according to charging documents filed in January.

Pennsylvania State Police Captain Adam Kosheba speaks during a press conference regarding the arrest and  charges being filed against Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., at the Pennsylvania State Police Department in Loganville, Pa. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. Cofflin was charged based on evidence found and threats made regarding his intention to kill his ex-girlfriend, Pennsylvania State Troopers and county judges. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

In September 2015, Coffin was charged with misdemeanor counts of making terroristic threats against the woman, according to authorities. In October, Seamus Dubbs, the lawyer he’d hired to represent him on these charges, called state police, telling them Cofflin had mentioned to him such serious and immediate threats that he’d called the state Bar Ethics Hotline and they’d told him he could waive attorney-client privilege and report what Cofflin had told him, police said.

So he did, telling police on Oct. 22 that Cofflin had said he’d acquired body armor and was building an assault rifle, and when he was done, he was planning to take back by force the house he’d lived in with the ex-girlfriend, documents state.

Troopers tracked Coffin down at his mother's house in Dundalk, Maryland, where he'd moved after the PFA was granted, and brought him in the next day for questioning, documents state. Police say at that one point in a recorded conversation he “freely” laid out to troopers  the highlights of his plan: he was going to build the gun, build the bombs, get explosives, kill the woman and then the cops who responded to that slaying.

He said he'd also bought a gas mask, body armor, night-vision goggles and more, according to police. He told police he’d been attempting to get tungsten bullets that he said could pierce riot shields and body armor, according to police.

How Loganville terrorism suspect could have armed himself

And Cofflin had been working on what he himself had readily called IEDs — improvised explosive devices — made from propane tanks augmented by the binary explosive Tannerite, which he believed he’d be able to buy at a gun show, documents state. Police said he planned to put nails and bolts on the outside of the homemade bombs in an attempt to cause further damage with shrapnel.

When police searched his phone, they found searches including “killing a state cop,” “killing with an ar 15” and “killing a state trooper,” documents state. Police say they also found bookmarks for topics including “plate armor on a budget” and “Murder-suicide: when killing yourself isn’t enough.”

He told state police he’d been tracking the troopers and “knew their habits” and the barracks itself, police said.

For this alleged plot, he’s charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder of a law-enforcement officer, two first-degree felony counts of terrorism and three counts of aggravated assault and one misdemeanor count each of making terroristic threats and threatening to use a bomb.

He remains in York County Prison after being denied bail for the attempted murder and terrorism charges. Online court records say this was to "ensure the safety of certain individuals."

Cofflin's public defender Jim Rader didn't immediately respond  Wednesday to a call for comment.

— Contact Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.