Peerless Mill owner out of jail on bond

Peerless Mill owner out of jail on bond

February 18th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

Les Coffey, owner of the Peerless Mill in Rossville, was released from the Walker County Jail on a $1,000 bond Thursday after being arrested Wednesday on a felony charge of making terroristic threats against the city.

Tennessee American Water cut off service to the mill Wednesday morning. Rossville police Detective Dave Scroggins said Coffey called the City Court clerk's office with threats to block the city sewer line unless his water was turned on.

Rossville City Court Clerk Rhonda Keith said Coffey angrily declared that the city had violated a contract with him by turning his water off.

"He said that if we didn't have his water turned on by 10 a.m. that he would put a chunk of concrete in the sewer line," Keith said.

Scroggins said that Coffey also called a Kleen-A-Matic in Rossville and told people there that if they didn't help him negotiate with city authorities, he'd cut off the sewer line and hurt their business. Coffey said Thursday that he made no such threats. The owners at Kleen-A-Matic could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Georgia Code defines a terroristic threat as one "to commit any crime of violence, to release any hazardous substance ... or otherwise [cause] serious public inconvenience or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience."

Coffey said he owns the mill's sewer system. He said he always pays the Tennessee American Water bill but refuses to pay the portion allotted for sewer services because the city owes him fees for its use of the sewer. He said his threats to block the line were no different from a utility company threatening to cut off the service of a delinquent customer.

"The city of Rossvillle knows that they don't own the sewer system. They owe me $985,000 in sewer fees, and this is how they're trying to get out of it," he said.

The city maintains that the system is publicly owned and that it contracts with Tennessee American Water for sewage treatment.

Keith said the city can't turn water service on or off.

"That's up to Tennessee American Water, not us," she said.

Coffey was released on condition that he make "no threatening, harassing, or otherwise provoking communications" with any Rossville employee or business owners, according to court documents. He also was ordered not to make any "unauthorized access to or participate in any activity that might adversely affect any of the public utilities" of Rossville.

Coffey said those conditions are too harsh.

"They effectively seized the complex, and took away my rights of free speech," he said.

Scroggins said that's not true.

"Mr. Coffey seems to believe he is exempt from complying with the rules that every other citizen of this state is expected to follow," he said.

Coffey said he plans to file a federal lawsuit against Rossville. His court date on the threat charge will be set later.

Staff writer Carey O'Neil contributed to this story.