GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. – A former NFL player has been accused of trashing a restaurant and an ice cream shop he owned near Atlanta to make it look like a hate crime.
Gwinnett County police say they found the n-word, “monkey,” “MAGA” and swastikas scrawled on the walls and booths of the two businesses, Create & Bake Pizza and Coughman’s Creamery in Lawrenceville, reported Gwinnett Daily Post.
Consequently, Edawn Coughman, 31, of Buford, was arrested Thursday on charges of false reporting a burglary, insurance fraud and concealing a license plate before being bonded out of jail, police said.
Coughman was signed out of Shaw University to the Seattle Seahawks practice squad in 2012 and then spent parts of the next season with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, according to the Daily Post. He was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014 and then signed by the Washington Redskins later that season.
Police said in a news release that an officer responded Wednesday night to a 911 call reporting a man damaging the restaurant and the ice cream shop and getting away in a truck without a license plate. The restaurant’s rear door showed signs of forced entry.
When officers stopped the truck for further investigation, they found Coughman behind the wheel and learned he was the owner of the damaged businesses, according to the news release.
Police grew suspicious for several reasons. Coughman was wearing gloves and a hoodie. Moreover, in the truck were several TVs that appeared to have been ripped from a wall.
When officers went inside, there were “racially motivated comments and symbols” on walls and booths inside. Police noted the smell of fresh paint, some of which was wet.
Police also noticed pry marks on the back door, which were connected to evidence later found in the truck Coughman was driving. Police said investigators found a license plate, spray paint and a yellow crowbar inside the truck, which does not belong to Coughman.
“We believe he used that possibly not to have the truck or identity of the truck return back to him,” Cpl Michele Pihera said.
Police said they believe everything took place shortly before officers arrived at the scene of the incident.
The news release quoted Coughman as informing the officers that he had noticed the damage earlier in the day and called his insurance company to report it but not the police.
“The crime is the fact that he reported to us he was a victim of a burglary,” Cpl. Pihera said. “We’re also looking into the fact that his insurance company could also be a victim, depending on if a claim was in process. … There’s also a possibility the owner of the building could also be a victim.”
“It’s possible he was trying to stage this as a hate crime,” Pihera told the Daily Post. “We don’t know if he was trying to get attention for this. What we do know is, if that witness had not called us and if those officers had not responded as quickly as they did, we would probably be sitting here talking about a completely different crime in which Mr. Coughman would be trying to say he’s a victim.”
As with most staged crimes, things simply didn’t add up.
“The case does not fit the mold of our typical criminal investigations, so we have to look outside of the box to see how many victims we truly have,” Pihera said.
Police said Coughman’s prior arrest in Gwinnett County was simply related to traffic violations.
Pihera said if the scene was a hoax, the crime takes away from the needs and concerns of legitimate victims of hate crimes.
“This diminishes those cases in which we have true victims of hate crimes,” Pihera said. “We wanted to make sure we got in front of this to explain to the community that this was not a hate crime, we believe that Mr. Coughman was responsible for the vandalism inside the business.”
Coughman denied staging the scene to reflect a burglary or a hate crime.
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