Jury acquits Gifford man who claimed self-defense after girlfriend killed by sheriff's SWAT team in 2017 raid

VERO BEACH – A Gifford man who claimed he was defending himself and his girlfriend when he fired shots at deputies during an early-morning raid in 2017 was acquitted Friday of charges that carried a life prison term.

A jury found Andrew “A.J.” Coffee IV, 27, 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.

In a separate proceeding Friday, the same jury convicted Coffee IV of one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.

At his sentencing Jan. 13, he faces a maximum prison term of 30 years.

“The state will be seeking that maximum 30 years upon him,” Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor said after court.

Andrew "A.J." Coffee IV, seated with his defense lawyers Julia Graves (left) and Adam Chrzan Nov. 19, 2021, reacts to a jury verdict acquitting him of second-degree felony murder and other felony charges during his trial at the Indian River County Courthouse. The charges related to a March 19, 2017 fire fight between a Sheriff's Office Special Weapons and Tactical team and Coffee IV at his Gifford home that left his girlfriend Alteria Woods dead from shots fired by deputies.

The charges related to a March 19, 2017, fire fight between a Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactical team and Coffee IV at his home in the 4500 block of 35th Avenue, Gifford.

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His girlfriend, Alteria Woods, 21, died during the raid after being struck by 10 bullets fired by a SWAT team member, including one shot that entered her chest, records show.

The second-degree murder count, defined as an intentional killing that was not premeditated, was in connection to Woods’ death.

Jurors seated last week for a trial that began Monday deliberated for about 11 hours before returning a verdict.

The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon following closing arguments and worked until around 10 p.m. before being told to return Friday.

After court Friday, Coffee’s attorney Adam Chrzan said his client was relieved when it became clear the jury was acquitting him of the most serious charges.

“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.”

Chrzan blamed sheriff’s officials for “creating the situation that triggered” Woods’ death.

“The jury found that he was defending himself and Alteria and that he needed to do this,” Chrzan added.

Coffee on Wednesday testified on his own behalf as he did in March, during a stand your ground hearing seeking immunity from prosecution.

Then, he told Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn he and Woods had been asleep when deputies at the back of the house broke out the window to his bedroom using a pole that then detonated a flashbang device.

Self defense: Gifford man seeks immunity in 2017 SWAT drug raid that killed Alteria Woods, 21

Stand your ground hearing: Andrew “A.J.” Coffee IV vows shots fired in self defense

Moments earlier, SWAT members at the front of the house had quickly taken his father, Andrew Coffee III, into custody after a brief struggle just outside the home’s front door.

Indian River County Sheriff’s officials collect evidence around a known drug house off 45th Street, between 34th and 36th Avenue, in Gifford on Sunday, March 19, 2017. Deputies were attempting to enforce a search warrant that morning when shots were fired from inside the house. Alteria Woods, 21, was killed in the exchange of gunfire. Andrew Coffee IV, 26, faces six charges, including second-degree felony murder with a firearm and three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.

During his March hearing, Coffee IV said he thought he was being robbed when he saw what appeared to be a rifle sticking through the open window pointed at him. He insisted he didn’t know the raid was underway when he fired a .45-caliber pistol out his bedroom window, shooting it two or three times.

Deputies in turn shot more than a dozen rounds toward the bedroom window, court records show.

After the gunfire, investigators searched the house. Woods was discovered deceased on a bed in Coffee IV’s bedroom.

In the elder Coffee's bedroom, deputies found marijuana cigarettes, crack cocaine along with 10 Hydromorphone pills and one oxycodone pill, both painkillers, according to reports.

A grand jury in July 2017 cleared SWAT team members of any criminal charges and a Sheriff's Office internal investigation cleared them of any violations of policies and procedures.

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'She can't be brought back': Alteria Woods liked to 'joke around, laugh,' cousin recalls

In June, Vaughn denied Coffee’s bid for immunity under the state's "stand your ground" law. An appeals court in October declined to overturn Vaughn's ruling.

Taylor Friday said he respect the jury’s verdict but still rebuffed Coffee IV's claims of self-defense.

“Obviously, we believe that the state's case was righteous, we proved our case beyond a reasonable doubt but the jury did not see it that way for the first part of the trial,” he said. “But we are glad that justice was done and he was found guilty of the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.”

Coffee IV has a criminal record that includes four felony convictions, Taylor noted, which he said allows the state to seek an enhanced punishment for the gun conviction.

Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers in a statement issued after the verdict, stood by the actions of SWAT members during the raid.

"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. 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," Flowers said via text.

"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’ family has said she had attended Indian River State College and worked as a pharmacy technician at a Publix store in the Ryanwood Plaza on 58th Avenue west of Vero Beach. She was studying to become a pharmacist.

In January, Woods’ mother, Yolanda Woods, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the Sheriff’s office and deputies involved in the raid.

That lawsuit was recently put on hold pending the outcome of Coffee IV’s trial.

Others inside the house the night of the raid have also filed federal lawsuits against sheriff’s officials, including Coffee IV, his grandmother Vivian Scott and her friend Leslie Lowery.

Melissa E. Holsman is the legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is writer and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Andrew Coffee IV cleared of murder charge in 2017 Alteria Woods death