Former Sea Pines officer testifies security chief ordered him to lie

tbarton@islandpacket.comMay 30, 2012 

A former Sea Pines security officer testified Wednesday that the plantation's security chief directed him to lie and finger a local judge's adopted brother as a suspect in a rash of break-ins.

John Jolin, who worked security for Sea Pines from 2001 to 2008, testified during a trial that began Tuesday. Hilton Head Municipal Court Judge Maureen Coffey has accused Sea Pines' property owners association, Community Services Associates, and its security chief of harassing and defaming her and her family as authorities tried to solve a series of burglaries in 2008.

The judge contends Sea Pines security had no probable cause to suspect her brother. Her lawsuit claims Sea Pines officials conspired to have her brother jailed and her discredited.

Specifically, she alleges Sea Pines security chief George Breed falsified reports and accusations by claiming she covered up for Otis Coffey and interfered with the investigation.

Coffey also claims in her suit that Breed and other CSA employees falsely accused her of having an affair with Jolin. Coffey was married at the time and is now separated.

Coffey testified Wednesday she was maligned by the property owners association and its security force, saying her reputation has been tarnished, causing her undue stress that led her to receive counseling.

Attorneys for CSA and Breed argue Coffey was already suffering from stress and seeking counseling due to marital troubles and other issues. They also deny that Coffey's reputation was damaged by Breed, who, acting for CSA, lodged a judicial complaint against her in June 2008. That complaint was dismissed by the S.C. Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Coffey's contract with the town was renewed in 2011 and she was given a raise, though she testified she should have received more. Her salary increased from $85,600 to $87,000, according to town records.

'SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY'

On Wednesday, the trial focused mostly on testimony from Jolin and Beaufort County Sheriff's Office detective Meredith Florencio about an alleged conspiracy to arrest Otis Coffey.

Jolin testified he was patrolling around midnight on May 20, 2008, along South Beach Lane, where most of the burglaries had occurred. A man approached him on a bicycle; Jolin said he tried to the stop and question him, but the man fled. Jolin chased him on foot, but lost him as he turned behind a house. Another Sea Pines security officer patrolling in the area later radioed to report he saw a man run inside the house where Otis Coffey lived with his mother.

When officers knocked on the door his mother said he was not home. They also did not find the bike.

Despite not seeing the man's face, Jolin listed Otis Coffey as a suspect in "suspicious activity" -- which is not a crime -- in a report filed with the Sheriff's Office. He testified that he was "80-percent sure" the person he saw was Otis Coffey.

The next day he said he received a phone call from Breed, saying "you're 100-percent sure it's Otis Coffey. Do you understand?"

Shortly afterward, Jolin said Florencio, the Sheriff's Office detective, called him to clear up discrepancies between his report and an email Breed had sent to Florencio. In that email, Breed stated a Sea Pines security officer spotted Otis Coffey in the area were the burglaries were occurring, chased him and saw him run into the Coffeys'house and shut off the lights.

Reading in court from the email Breed sent her, Florencio said: "We almost got his little butt and I want his little butt, and I don't want it to get back to you-know-who," referring to Judge Coffey.

"He thinks he can get away with this crap because he has cover," Breed's email stated. "Do you think we have enough for a search warrant?"

The narrative in Jolin's report made no reference to positively identifying Otis Coffey.

And Jolin testified that during his telephone chat with Florencio -- when the detective asked him if he had positively identified Otis Coffey -- he had lied "because Mr. Breed told me to."

As a result of her conversation with Jolin, Florencio wrote a revised report, saying Otis Coffey had been positively ID'd as a suspect. The crime of fleeing to evade arrest was also added to Jolin's report.

Despite Jolin's assertion that he had positively identified Otis Coffey as the man who fled, Florencio testifiedthe Sheriff's Office had no probable cause to obtain a search warrant or consider him a prime suspect in the burglaries.

Charges were never filed and no one was officially named as a suspect in the break-ins, Florencio testified. She also said Maureen Coffey did not impair or impede her investigation.

Jolin said he listed Otis Coffey as a suspect in his report more as "a person of interest" in order togive a detective "enough information to question Otis Coffey and rule him in or out as a suspect."

As for why he lied to Florencio, Jolin said he was scared and later regretted it. He said he confronted Breed and asked that the revised report be stricken and the original report submitted to the Sheriff's Office.

Jolin said Breed assured him he'd do so, but never did.

Testimony resumes today.Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

Related content: Hilton Head judge's defamation suit moves to trial: May 19, 2012

Hilton Head judge vows to continue with lawsuit: Oct. 8, 2010

Sea Pines property owners association responds to Judge Coffey's lawsuit: Dec. 26, 2008

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