Former UT student gets day in court

In civil rights case, man says campus police officer used excessive force on him last year

By Steven Kreytak, Staff
Austin American-Statesman
Monday, November 29, 2004



Photo courtesy of the Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice


When called to testify by Bougie's lawyers, Coffey said he ran up behind Bougie and put his hands on the student's shoulders, not on his head.

"He lunged left, looked right a little bit, looked up at me a little bit and then he raised up," Coffey testified.

The police officer looked "strange" as he ran across the University of Texas West Mall that night last year, "like he was tiptoeing" or "sneaking up on someone," UT student Matthew Perry testified at the start of a civil rights trial in federal court on Monday.

Perry said he halted his cell phone conversation to watch the officer, who was heading toward a student writing in chalk on a short cement wall outside the Texas Union.

After initially slowing down, the officer gathered a full head of steam and ran at the student, extended his right hand and smashed the student's face against the cement wall, Perry testified.

The student, who was facing the wall the entire time, never saw it coming, Perry told a jury convened before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. Perry was the first witness in a civil trial pitting Jonathan Bougie — the student who was chalking the wall that night — against UT police officer Wayne Coffey.

Bougie, who is seeking unspecified damages, says Coffey used excessive force against him that night; Coffey denies that. He contends that he forced Bougie to the ground to keep him from escaping an impending arrest for criminal mischief.

Bougie was a graduate student in physics and a member of the Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice on March 19, 2003, the night the United States invaded Iraq. About 10:30 p.m., Bougie was writing "protest the war" on the wall to persuade fellow students to attend an anti-war rally the next day.

The West Mall is a usual center of protest activity on campus; chalk is regularly used by student groups to promote various activities, including protests.

Bougie, 30, has since earned a doctorate in physics from UT and teaches physics and physical science at Huston-Tillotson College. He was arrested by Coffey that night on charges of criminal mischief, a Class C misdemeanor. The charges were later dropped.

Bougie's attorney, Wayne Krause of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in his opening statement that Coffey failed to identify himself as a police officer before pushing Bougie into the wall, "breaking his glasses, leaving Dr. Bougie bloody and having to go to the emergency room."

Coffey's attorney, Assistant Attorney General Richard Salisbury, said the officer's actions were "reasonable under the circumstances."

Coffey didn't know if Bougie had a weapon, and his first priority was to ensure his own safety, Salisbury said.

The decision to not immediately identify himself as a police officer was "a judgment call," Salisbury said.

When called to testify by Bougie's lawyers, Coffey said he ran up behind Bougie and put his hands on the student's shoulders, not on his head.

"He lunged left, looked right a little bit, looked up at me a little bit and then he raised up," Coffey testified.

Coffey said he had been dispatched to the West Mall on a report that someone was chalking a wall without permission of the university.

"It was necessary for me to use force because I thought Dr. Bougie was going to flee," he said.

Coffey is a former professional football player who Krause said has been a UT officer for "six or seven years." Salisbury declined to comment on his client's employment history after the close of testimony.

According to Total Football, a book that includes a record of every National Football League player in history, Coffey played three games for the New England Patriots in 1987, catching three passes for 66 yards. The Web site ArenaFan.com says that Coffey played from 1989 to 1995 in the Arena Football League.

Coffey's lawyers will cross-examine him when the trial continues Tuesday morning. The trial is expected to last three days.