Vero Beach, FL – An Indian River County jury on Friday found 27-year-old Andrew “A.J.” Coffee IV not guilty of the murder of his pregnant girlfriend, or the attempted murders of three law enforcement officers, during a 2017 raid on his home.
The incident occurred on March 19, 2017 when the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) team made entry into Coffee’s residence in the 4500-block of 35th Avenue in Gifford, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
When the raid began, SWAT officers took Coffee’s father, Andrew Coffee III, into custody after a short struggle that occurred in the front of the house.
Coffee testified on his own behalf at trial and told the jury that he had been asleep in bed when deputies used a pole to break a window in his bedroom and then deployed a flash bang, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
He testified at a “stand your ground” hearing seeking immunity from prosecution in March that he thought he was being robbed when the SWAT team entered the house.
Coffee said he thought the pole authorities used to break the window was a rifle, and didn’t know the home was being raided when he fired a .45-caliber pistol out the window multiple times, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
Court records showed that when Coffee began shooting out his window, deputies returned fire and shot more than a dozen rounds in the direction of the bedroom window.
Authorities said that Coffee’s pregnant girlfriend, 21-year-old Alteria Woods, was fatally shot in his bed after Coffee used her as a shield, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
“Andrew Coffee IV cowardly was using her as protection,” then-Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar said at the time, CBS News reported.
Sheriff Loar said Coffee and his father had been targeted by law enforcement in connection with a series of recent shootings that included the February murder of a deputy by a stray bullet.
Records showed that Woods sustained 10 gunshot wounds including one to the chest.
The police report said the deputies’ search of the home turned up marijuana cigarettes, crack cocaine, 10 Hydromorphone pills, and one oxycodone pill in Coffee’s father’s bedroom, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
An investigation into the deputy-involved shooting of Woods was conducted and in July of 2017, a grand jury declined to bring any criminal charges against the members of the SWAT team who fired into the home.
The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office also conducted an internal investigation and determined that the deputies had not violated any department policies or procedures, according to Treasure Coast Newspapers.
Coffee was charged with the second-degree felony murder of Woods, three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer by discharging a firearm, one count of shooting or throwing a deadly missile, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn denied Coffee’s bid for immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law in July and his murder trial began in November, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
Coffee blamed deputies for his girlfriend’s death when he testified.
“I was trying to protect me and Alteria and I thought I was doing that, but I feel I didn’t protect her. I can’t sleep with that… they killed her,” he told the jury.
Coffee’s trial lasted less than a week and the jury deliberated for 11 hours before returning a verdict on Nov. 19, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
The jury found Coffee not guilty of second-degree felony murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer by discharging a firearm, and one count of shooting or throwing a deadly missile.
However, the same jury in a separate proceeding the same day found Coffee guilty of one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
Coffee is facing up to 30 years in prison on the gun charge alone.
He has been scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 13, according to Treasure Coast Newspapers.
“The state will be seeking that maximum 30 years upon him,” Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor told reporters after the verdicts were returned.
Adam Chrzan, defense attorney for Coffee, said his client was relieved he hadn’t been convicted of the most serious charges against him, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported.
“I think they weighed the evidence and applied the law and took into account the defenses that we were provided and we argued successfully, clearly, that there was some overreaction and overreach by the sheriff’s department on that raid,” Chrzan said. “They should have pulled back, they didn’t. And this is what happens when you go into a volatile situation without all the information.”
The sheriff’s department was disappointed by the verdict.
“It’s disappointing that this jury did not see that the tragic death of Alteria Woods occurred as a direct results of the actions of Andrew Coffee IV,” Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers wrote in a text message to Treasure Coast Newspapers.
“Our deputies were there as a result of drug complaints and sales and took fire from Coffee upon which they had no choice but to protect themselves and others,” Sheriff Flowers wrote. “Our hearts go out to the Woods family as they still suffer from a loss of their daughter, but we stand by our statement that she would still be here had Coffee simply complied with law enforcement.”
Woods’ mother filed a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s department in January, according to Treasure Coast Newspapers.