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After bomb, gun plot, police are steadfast

Written by Ted Czeck/York Daily Record | Jan 8, 2016 1:47 PM
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The Pennsylvania State Police Barracks photographed in Loganville on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. (Photo: Jason Plotkin York Daily Record)

Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr.'s alleged plot is a "stark reminder that police are always potential victims," police say

(Loganville) -- When Pennsylvania State Police Capt. Adam Kosheba was briefed on a man's alleged plot to kill state troopers, and how close he came to carrying it out, he immediately thought of the Eric Frein case.

"Oh, definitely," Kosheba said Thursday. "It's just another stark reminder that police are always potential victims for those who don't necessarily agree with the laws that we enforce in the commonwealth."

In September 2014, Eric Matthew Frein, 32, opened fire with a sniper rifle on troopers outside the Blooming Grove barracks in Pike County, killing Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II and seriously injuring Trooper Alex Douglass. U.S. Marshals captured him more than a month later at an abandoned airport in Tannersville. Frein's case has reached the court of common pleas in Pike County, although a trial date has not been set, online dockets indicate.

On Wednesday, Kosheba helped host a news conference about another man -- 56-year-old Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., formerly of Loganville -- who was charged in connection with devising a plot to kill his ex-girlfriend, and to build bombs and construct a machine gun. It was Cofflin's intent to "go to war" with state troopers from the Loganville barracks, charging documents state.

"He could have leveled at least a portion of this building and killed several people," Kosheba said at the news conference. As a lieutenant, Kosheba was station commander at the Loganville barracks at one time.

Kosheba said that once state police became aware of the plot, word was sent to every barracks in the state to be on the alert for any possible attacks.

"We told everyone to be vigilant, to be aware of their surroundings," he said.

Precautions and morale

As far as specific precautions taken after the threat was discovered, that information cannot be disclosed, Kosheba said.

However, Cofflin's alleged plot has triggered recent discussions in the department, said Trooper Rob Hicks, a public information officer for Troop H, which includes the Loganville barracks.

"While safety measures are already in place there and will continue to be enhanced, recent discussions have taken place in light of what just occurred to increase the troopers' vigilance when it comes to the safety and security of themselves and the facility from the types of acts that Cofflin was threatening to engage in," Hicks wrote Thursday in an email.

Both Kosheba and Hicks stressed that the discovery of the plot did not dampen morale at the Loganville barracks or across the state.

It had the opposite effect.

"If it did anything, it strengthened morale. And guys understand they have to be vigilant in what they're doing everyday," Kosheba said.

Potential attacks against police have always been a part of the job, York Area Regional Police Sgt. Peter Montgomery said Thursday.

"We always stay on high-alert -- individually, around our station, in the car," he said. "We know there are people, now, targeting us more than ever, or at least are being more vocal about it."

Montgomery said he does not envision a more militaristic approach to police stations -- surrounded by high fences and checkpoints -- although he added, "Who knows what the future holds."

Still, the threats will not stop police from doing what they are sworn to do, he said.

"Just because this guy was plotting something ... we're still going to go out there and do our job," he said.

A neighbor shared this video of police visiting Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr.'s Dundalk, Maryland home in October where he lived with his mother. Cofflin is accused of planning to kill his ex-girlfriend and blow up police barracks. submitted

Attorney's statement

Although Cofflin was arrested Oct. 23 at his mother's home in Dundalk, Md., there was a period of time where police knew of the alleged plot --and didn't know where he was, Kosheba said.

"There was a small window there -- it wasn't very long -- where he wasn't in custody," he said. "When we were preparing the search warrants with Baltimore County Police, his whereabouts were not known."

Two events worked in police's favor in the case: finding out about the plot from Cofflin's defense attorney and that, once in custody, Cofflin opened up about his alleged plans, Kosheba said.

The statement made by Cofflin's lawyer, who was identified by Maryland police as York attorney Seamus Dubbs, was vital to the case's detection, Kosheba said. He made the statement after consulting with the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

"The likelihood of us discovering his plot would have been slim without the input of the attorney," he said.

Once Cofflin was arrested and state troopers were able to interview him, he went into detail on his alleged plans.

"Maybe he didn't understand the magnitude of what we knew," Kosheba said. "All I can tell you is were very fortunate that he did speak."

Police already had evidence collected from his mother's home and his vehicle, but from the interview, "We got an understanding of what was in his mind ... just saw how in-depth his planning was," he said.

DA Tom Kearney's statement on Cofflin's terrorism charge:

"I want to stress that today's arrest is in no way associated with any foreign, national organization," District Attorney Tom Kearney said Wednesday at a news conference. "This is an isolated incident by an individual who was disgruntled over an adverse ruling by our local court and wanted to make a statement with the use of violence. Simply put, the charge of terrorism was brought because the facts establish the elements of the statutory charge, or statutory language ... We are here today to assure the public that this was an isolated incident by a single individual as a result of his personal concerns and not the result of any specific ideology."

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