A senior federal judge has cleared a criminal case defended by a Trump-appointed Supreme Federal Prosecutor against a rock musician who posted promotional photos for his band on Facebook and raided his home as a result.
Justin Coffman, a member of an anarcho-punk group called The Gunpowder Plot, was the target of a June 2020 home raid in Jackson, Tennessee, after posting three professionally shot images to his group’s Facebook page . The photos showed him standing in front of a police vehicle and posing with a fake Molotov cocktail behind his back.
Months after the raid, the US District Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee indicted Coffman under a rarely used law that makes it illegal to possess weapons as a user of an illegal drug. The charge has sometimes been used against white supremacists who espouse violence, but it has been used here to target a member of a rock band with an anti-fascist theatrical motive.
Coffman was a legal gun owner, but law enforcement found a small amount of marijuana in his home during the raid. This, combined with Coffman’s admission that he used marijuana, gave authorities the basis for a federal charge.
Former US Attorney Mike Dunavant, a person appointed by Donald Trump who has repeatedly demonstrated his dedication to the former president, held a press conference months after the raid to extol what he described as the ” exceptional investigative work “in the case.
But US District Chief Justice S. Thomas Anderson, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, didn’t give much thought to investigative work.
On Friday, in a remarkable decision, Anderson ordered the deletion of evidence gathered in the raid, arguing that the search of Coffman’s home was unconstitutional and that no reasonable officer acting in good faith could have believed the search warrant was proof of a probable cause of the search. the House.
Based on the entire affidavit, Anderson wrote, “a reasonably prudent person would not be justified in believing that Coffman was in possession of a hoax or improvised explosive incendiary device.”
Anderson wrote that the affidavit “blatantly” omitted the fact that The Gunpowder Plot is Coffman’s group, “although this information was undoubtedly readily available and known to the affiant and would have been very relevant” to the local judge. who found probable cause to execute the search warrant.
“In this case, reasonable officers acting on the search warrant could not have had an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause, given the ‘rudimentary’ nature of the affidavit,” Anderson wrote. .
The government, Anderson wrote, “asks the Court to make a series of inferences from disparate events or facts without establishing the relationship between those inferences and the knowledge base that underlies said inferences.”
Anderson’s order tears up the affidavit, written by Jackson’s police major Phillip Kemper, which served as the basis for the search of Coffman’s house. Anderson wrote that Kemper, along with others like Jackson’s Police Lt. Chris Chestnut, should have had common sense to realize that the highly organized footage protected by Coffman’s First Amendment to promote his band didn’t offered a reasonable basis for searching his home.
Shortly after Lt. Chestnut informed his acquaintance that the police wished to speak to him, Coffman called the lieutenant and informed him that the apparent Molotov cocktail was not, in fact, a Molotov cocktail. Rather, it was a prop filled with apple juice that Coffman used in the pictures to support or promote his musical group. Coffman said the images were taken “before”, likely not as of the date of publication. The affidavit does not establish a basis for questioning Coffman’s credibility. Indeed, the very dramatic and obviously carefully curated appearance of the images and the accompanying quote seems to lend credence to the theory that these are promotional images for a rock band.
Coffman’s attorney, Alex Camp, said the judge’s order should effectively end the federal case, but the state’s case is still pending, even though Tennessee’s law on ” hoax stuff ”provides a specific exception for dramatic performances. (“Arguably, Coffman’s reasons for creating the images as promotional, artistic images for his band” fall under the exception to the law for “dramatic performances,” the federal judge wrote.)
The officers, Camp wrote in his successful request to suppress the evidence against Coffman, “knew the defendant was a musician in a band. In addition, officers knew the name of the group, the defendant’s stage name and the purpose of their Facebook post supporting his album, “but” confronted the defendant nonetheless. “
Even after Trump left, federal prosecutors defended the search warrant and the case. Joseph Murphy, the Acting US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, and Assistant US Attorney Hillary Lawler Parham asked the court in early July to review “the state of civil unrest and protests” in America after George’s death Floyd last year stating this helped put the affidavit against Coffman into context.
Coffman, in a statement to HuffPost, said the case was “a prime example of overbreadth performed by authority figures to silence someone they disagree with or oppose their status. quo ”, and that it went against“ the very rights of the constitution they have sworn to respect.
“Cases like this are one of the reasons we need major reform of law enforcement agencies across the country,” Coffman said. “Going through this has caused me hell and a lot of trouble, but I won’t be put off. I cannot be silenced by bullying.
Coffman also thanked his girlfriend, Leah, as well as a HuffPost reader who posted bail for the state charge and allowed Coffman out of jail after a month behind bars.
Dunavant, the former US attorney who posted “Happy Birthday” messages to Trump, as well as a Photo of himself holding a “MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN” sign at a Trump rally – did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Dunavant now works as the chief investigative adviser to Tennessee Treasury Comptroller Jason Mumpower, who described Dunavant as a “highly respected public servant and qualified lawyer” with “experience and wisdom.”
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