Police seek familiar criminal tied to Columbia shootings

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 | 8:06 p.m. CST; updated 9:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Koda Coats, 21, has been arrested 15 times over the past 4½ years.

COLUMBIA — Koda Coats is on a first-name basis with Columbia police.

He’s been arrested 15 times over the past 4½ years, and he has been directly tied to at least three high-profile shootings. Trouble seems to follow the 21-year-old convicted felon wherever he goes, police say.

“It’s certainly frustrating for our officers to see someone with that kind of violent past history back on the streets,” said Columbia police Capt. Brad Nelson. “It would be nice to see him incarcerated for longer than he has. ... Violence seems to surround him.”

Police are asking for the public’s help in locating Coats, who is wanted on two outstanding warrants and is considered a “person of interest” in a Nov. 26 drive-by shooting at Olympic Court and Olympic Boulevard. No one was injured in that incident.

But court documents obtained by the Missourian also show that Coats — known as a criminal “frequent flier” with several gang-affiliated friends — has been tied to several other city shootings in recent weeks. Police declined to say how many cases Coats may be linked to.

“I don’t want to be smearing his name and connect him to every shooting we’ve had recently,” Nelson said. “We wanted to connect him to the most recent shooting we had.”

Now, the department’s newly created Violent Crimes Task Force — along with two state Department of Corrections absconder and fugitive units — has been charged with finding Coats, who failed to report to his probation officer Friday. Police said they think Coats is still in Boone County. Coats’ attorney, Dan Viets, said his client had recently been in the hospital with pneumonia.

Coats’ criminal history dates back to 2003, including the following incidents:

— In July 2003, Coats was arrested with two 15-year-olds in connection with the shooting of a 15-year-old boy in the 400 block of Oak Street. He was arrested on suspicion of first-degree assault and armed criminal action and received five years of supervised probation.

— Six months later, Coats, then 17, was wounded in a shooting outside Pepper’s, 4515 Highway 763 N. Two Jefferson City men were later arrested.

— In the summer of 2004, a then-18-year-old Coats was one of nine people arrested in connection with a shooting near the Columbia Mall. The shooting was in retaliation for a June 3 armed robbery in Douglass Park. Coats was one of the men shot at and was arrested on suspicion of first-degree robbery.

— In October 2004, a 27-year-old woman, described as Coats’ girlfriend and the mother of his child, accused him of threatening her with a gun. Coats was arrested on suspicion of first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

— In April 2005, Coats was arrested following a shooting near an at-home day care center in the 300 block of Lasalle Place. Coats was later charged with two felony counts of discharging a firearm.

In 2005, his probation was revoked and Coats served 93 days in a shock incarceration program. Coats later served four months in prison at the Fulton Diagnostic and Reception Center and the Farmington Correctional Center and then was incarcerated again for more than a year between December 2005 and January 2007.

He was briefly imprisoned for about a month and a half between May and June of this year before another warrant was issued for his arrest last week, said Brian Hauswirth, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Coats’ 62-year-old grandmother, Deloris Coats, has told prosecutors and investigators that her grandson has “some behavioral problems” but was frequently the victim of racial profiling by police.

“Yes, surely he has committed some (crimes), but he has not committed all of what you all say,” Deloris Coats told prosecutors at one of her grandson’s probation hearings in 2005.

Deloris Coats later wrote a letter to a district court judge saying that her grandson has “a lot of anger built up” and grew up in a troubled home. Koda Coats was raised by his grandmother while both his mother and father served prison sentences.

“He acts brave, but deep down, he’s really a scared young man,” Deloris Coats wrote.

Coats’ former parole officer, Kathy Spiers, wrote in 2004 that Coats was trying to turn his life around. He was attending high school and had a part-time job in a barber shop.

“I think that Koda may actually be trying to change his lifestyle,” Spiers wrote. “He reports to me weekly and I see bits of progress.”

In a letter to Circuit Court Judge Larry Bryson, Koda Coats conceded that he was “no saint, by far” but that he had been unfairly caught up in the legal system.

In the past year, Coats has been arrested by sheriff’s deputies on suspicion of drug trafficking and, on Nov. 28, his ex-girlfriend told police that Coats had threatened to “shoot up her house,” according to court documents.

“Everybody deserves a fair chance but what do we call a fair chance? Some of these youths have been getting in trouble for years,” said Tracy Edwards, who heads the city’s First Ward Ambassadors program, a group of black men who monitor crime and youth activities in the area. “I’m not pinpointing Koda, but if you’re going to go out and commit the same crime time and again, why do you deserve probation?”

Coats — who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 180 pounds — should be considered armed and dangerous, police say. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 875-4744 or Columbia’s Probation and Parole office at 884-7016.

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