Case dropped for man in alleged 'war' on cops
Charges were withdrawn against a Maryland man who remains in York County Prison on his original case, for allegedly scheming to murder his ex-girlfriend and wage war on police.
Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr. has been incarcerated since January on those charges, including attempted murder and terrorism.
State police filed additional charges against him in September after he allegedly threatened a York County Prison correctional officer and smashed a window in the prison.
It was those charges — making terroristic threats, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief — that were withdrawn Tuesday morning by the York County District Attorney's Office, about three hours before his scheduled preliminary hearing before District Judge Barry Bloss Jr.
Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said the charges will be refiled.
"We didn't withdraw because of any issues in the case. It had nothing to do with that," he said. "This was purely a logistics issue."
Barker explained that Cofflin is considered a high-risk defendant, and that there are security protocols for when such defendants need to be transported to hearings.
Requests denied: What normally happens is that a high-risk defendant's hearing is moved to the York County Judicial Center, but that didn't happen Tuesday.
"We had made requests to have those protocols followed, which included potentially having the hearing at the judicial center," Barker said, but the requests were denied. "The opinion of the courts was that they would rather have it at the magisterial district judge's office."
Kyle King, spokesman for the DA's Office, confirmed multiple requests were made to move the hearing's location.
"All we are able to do is make the request," King said. "Ultimately, we're at the mercy of the court."
Barker said his office wanted to take every safety precaution when it came to Cofflin.
"All measures are taken to guarantee public safety and ... security," he said, adding charges will be refiled after a security plan is in place.
"We're going to sit down with the Pennsylvania State Police and discuss with them enhanced security and safety procedures (for Cofflin's hearing)," Barker said.
No outside threat: Judge Bloss confirmed he denied the DA's Office request.
"We were prepared to have the preliminary hearing today," he said Tuesday, but Bloss received a call from Barker about 8 a.m. advising him that charges were being withdrawn.
Bloss said requests to move hearings tend to be made when some sort of outside threat has been made, and he was not apprised of any such threat in this case.
He said part of his reasoning in denying the request is the fact that his office — located at the county's Pleasant Acres complex — is only about a half-mile from the prison.
"I didn't deem it to be a security risk," Bloss said of holding the hearing in his own office. "It's not (the prosecution's) job to change the venue. ... It's a decision that each magisterial district judge has the option of making. That's the process."
York County Common Pleas President Judge Joseph C. Adams confirmed he was aware of the situation, but he said he couldn't intervene.
"I have no authority to overturn a magisterial district judge's decision on where to conduct his hearing at," Adams said.
'No security' for MDJs: Bloss said security is lacking at the lower court offices.
"None of the (MDJ) offices has great security. In fact, we have no security," he said. "The only person you're greeted by is a clerk at the front window."
People walking into the county judicial center are met by sheriff's deputies and other security measures, Bloss noted.
He said prosecutors could arrange to have deputies attend Cofflin's hearing when it's rescheduled.
"They can do that every day," Bloss said. "I don't think there's an MDJ in the county who would say, 'No, I don't want security.'"
Alleged threat: State police said that on Sept. 6, guard Garry Bowser made Cofflin take down a piece of paper he had put up over the window of his jail cell, documents state.
Cofflin responded by shouting epithets at Bowser, then invited him into his cell so Cofflin could snap his neck and kill him, according to documents.
As Cofflin spoke, he struck the glass, shattering it, police said. As Cofflin was taken out of his cell, he allegedly told Bowser: "I'll get you in the hall."
Two days later, state police interviewed Cofflin, who talked about why he did what he did, according to police.
"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."
'Going to war': Before being arrested, Cofflin, 57, formerly of Loganville and more recently of Dundalk, Maryland, "was going to war with police," state police Capt. Adam Kosheba has said.
“Disgruntled” by court rulings against him, 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 also building 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 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 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.
In September 2015, Coffin was charged with misdemeanor counts of making terroristic threats against the woman, according to authorities.
Alerted by attorney: In October 2015, attorney Seamus Dubbs, the lawyer Cofflin had hired to represent him on these charges, warned state police of Cofflin's threats, saying the Pennsylvania Bar Association's ethics hotline advised him he could waive attorney-client privilege and report the threats, police said.
It was on Oct. 22, 2015, that Cofflin confided to Dubbs he’d acquired body armor and was building an assault rifle, and that when he was done, he was planning to take back by force the house he’d lived in with the ex-girlfriend, documents allege.
Troopers tracked Cofflin 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 said that at one point in a recorded conversation he “freely” laid out his plan to troopers.
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.
Making IEDs? 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 his 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 counts of terrorism, three counts of aggravated assault and one count each of making terroristic threats and threatening to use a bomb.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.