Man accused of punching horse files federal lawsuit

Dewey officer, two DSP officers face civil action
January 4, 2019

A man arrested and later exonerated for punching a police horse in Dewey Beach filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 30 against two state police officers and a Dewey policeman, citing civil rights violations.

Gavin Coco, 34, of Philadelphia, stated Delaware State Police officers Helen Zane and Josh Dear, and Dewey Police officer Jason Lovins, violated his 4th and 14th Amendment rights during the May 27, 2018, arrest.

On Aug. 28, 2018, Court of Common Pleas Judge Rosemary Beauregard granted a motion to dismiss charges against Coco.

Complaints filed individually against officers by Coco’s attorney Stephen P. Norman include unlawful detention, use of excessive force, malicious prosecution, fabrication of evidence and battery.

“We look forward to obtaining justice for Mr. Coco and clearing his good name,” Norman said.

The complaint states Coco suffered from extreme humiliation, lost wages and loss of reputation, and that he still suffers from physical, emotional and psychological injuries.

The complaint states Coco was fired and received threatening messages after his arrest made national news. U.S. News & World Report and NBC Philadelphia attributed Dewey police as their source, the complaint states, although Dewey police “were already in possession of surveillance video showing no horse was punched.”

Coco requested a jury trial and seeks compensatory damages, attorney fees, lost wages, and “punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish defendants and discourage them and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.”

In the complaint, Coco states Zane and Lovins unlawfully seized and detained him when Zane grabbed Coco’s shirt from atop her horse and Lovins arrested him.

“Zane and Lovins witnessed the interaction and were aware [Coco] committed no crime,” the complaint states. “In fact, Zane’s assertion that [Coco] punched her horse was in direct contradiction to her words recorded on video.”

The complaint states Dear and Zane used excessive force and battery when they rammed their horses into Coco, pushing him into a parked car, and when Dear’s horse stepped on Coco’s foot, causing injury.

“Any and all force was excessive as there was no probable cause to seize and arrest [Coco],” the complaint states.

The complaint states Zane and Lovins “maliciously and improperly” initiated criminal proceedings against Coco by making materially false statements, knowing charges lacked merit and probable cause.

“Zane falsely stated under oath that [Coco] punched her horse … to cover up her wrongful actions in using unnecessary force,” the complaint states. “Lovins fabricated the evidence against [Coco] in bad faith to support Zane’s efforts to cover up her unlawful actions.”

Coco originally filed a complaint with Dewey police Aug. 29, 2018. He said Dewey Police forwarded the complaint to Delaware State Police in September 2018 because the horses belong to state police.

Delaware State Police Public Information Officer Melissa Jaffe said in an Oct. 1, 2018 email that State Police Internal Affairs unit received the complaint and would investigate it, but would not discuss personnel matters.

Court documents show Zane was served a summons on Dec. 12, 2018 and Dear on Dec. 19, 2018. It is unknown who is representing Zane and Dear.

Dewey Town Manager Scott Koenig said the town received copies of the complaint and summons for Lovins Jan. 2. Koenig said the town contacted its insurance carrier, QBE Specialty Insurance Company, which hired the law firm of Marks, O'Neill, O'Brien, Doherty & Kelly to defend Lovins.  

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