YouTube video

Coty Cecil was awaiting repairs on his RV in a West Virginia campground when Milton police started breaking into his home, refusing to show a warrant. Cecil was eventually charged with possession with intent to distribute and transporting drugs over state lines, even though the half-dozen pot plants found in his RV were grown in his home state of Michigan—where they are legal. While looking into the dubious circumstances of Cecil’s arrest, PAR investigated the finances of the small rural community and uncovered some intriguing details about the role policing plays as a revenue engine for the town.

Pre-Production/Studio: Stephen Janis
Post Production: Stephen Janis, Dwayne Gladden


Taya Graham:     Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible.

And today we will do so by showing you this video of how police in a small West Virginia town tried to lie to get into someone’s private property. And we will explore the reasons why this raid may have not only violated the law, but also the consequences for both him and his family.

But before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at And please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and that I appreciate them.

And, of course, you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And, of course, if you can, please hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, because we do have some extras for our PAR family. Okay, now we’ve gotten all that out of the way.

Now, as we’ve reported on our show before, there is no policy more destructive in recent American history than the war on drugs. It has led to millions of useless arrests and millions of years of, in our opinion, illegal incarceration. But even though public opinion is turning against the idea of making any substance illegal, police still use it like a sledgehammer against those who cannot protect themselves.

Case in point is this video I’m showing you now of Milton, West Virginia, police trying to get inside the trailer of a man whose RV had broken down. His name is Coty Cecil, and he was traveling across the country when the brake lines of his RV failed, forcing him to stop in a trailer park in West Virginia. Coty, who is from Michigan, also happens to work for a legal marijuana growing equipment company and had a total of eight small Delta-8 hemp plants growing inside his RV. That’s right. Eight immature hemp plants, which is why police in West Virginia decided that Coty was such a threat to the community that they had to break into his home without a warrant. As you can see in the video we are showing now, police insisted that he let them inside. When Coty, fully aware of his constitutional rights, asked to see the warrant, police kept telling him they would get it soon. Let’s listen.


Police Officer 1:    Open the door.

Coty:                     So you’re going to break my stuff violently anyway?

Police Officer 1:       You’re going to get a copy of the warrant. Yeah. Open the door.

Coty:                 Look it, my hands are right here. All I’m doing is recording this. That’s it.

Police Officer 1:      Open the door.

Coty:                     I just don’t understand why and what’s going on. I need to have a lawyer present.

Police Officer 1:      You don’t have a lawyer present for a search warrant.

Coty:                    For a warrant, why not? This can be done completely peacefully. I just need to see a warrant first. Why are you guys breaking my stuff? I don’t – I haven’t seen a warrant yet. Right now, I look like I’m surrounded by a bunch of wolves trying to attack me.

Police Officer 1:        You’ll get a copy of it.

Coty:                          Okay. So as soon as I get a warrant, I’ll open the door. What’s the issue?

Well, here we go. This is what they’re after. Just so people know the real truth. [window smashes] Whoa, whoa.

Police Officer 1:      Open the door.

Coty:                       I don’t understand why you guys are being so violent towards me. That’s all.

Police Officer 1:      We’re not being violent.

Coty:                      Yes, you are. You just smashed my whole window in.


Taya Graham:           But in fact, no warrant existed, at least not during the raid. But that didn’t stop police from smashing his door and continuing to tell him to let them inside. Let’s watch.


Coty:                  And you’re not being violent? I haven’t even seen a warrant yet.

Police Officer 1:        We are affecting a search.

Coty:                    What kind of a search? Can I get any response at all?

Police Officer 1:        What the hell do you got in here?

Coty:                   It’s a deadbolt. I’ll unlock it.

Police Officer 1:      Unlock it!

Coty:                    I want to see a warrant!

Police Officer 1:       Unlock it!

Coty:                   I want a warrant first. This is my constitutional right to see that I am being searched with a warrant.

Police Officer 1:        You are being searched with a warrant as soon as he gets here.

Coty:                      Then I will be sitting right here, not doing anything. Trying to comply with the police that are breaking into my home for no apparent reason.


Taya Graham:          Now, I think it’s interesting that Coty was not willing to concede his rights in this situation. As you can see, throughout the ordeal he continues to insist to see the warrant. Still, no matter how many times he asked the police, they said it was forthcoming but failed to produce it, which might have prompted Coty to eat a few medicinal edibles. Given that his arrest was imminent.


Coty:                 Eat some edibles. [rustling]

I just want to see a warrant. That’s it. And I will come out. I don’t have nothing in here. I don’t have nothing to hide, but you just beat my door down. And you’re trying to make me look like a straight criminal. I don’t know what I did wrong. I’ve been sleeping in my RV since last night. What did I do wrong, officer? Can you explain it?

Police Officer 1:       We’ll explain everything as soon as you open this door.

Coty:                  I need a warrant.


Taya Graham:           Still, despite not being able to produce a warrant either that day or since, police forced their way inside, breaking his window and taking it upon themselves to break down his door. They also searched his car. Let’s watch as they arrest Coty for his eight hemp plants.


Coty:                    You’ve got me scared for my life! Here, I’m coming out. I’m coming out, guys.

Police Officer 2:      Put your cigarette down.

Coty:                    Okay. It’s the other way, guys. The other way.

Police Officer 2:      Come this way.

Coty:                    Please. I’ll help you. Don’t break my house. This is all I own.

Police Officer 2:        Okay. Y’all [inaudible] it up. Clear the rest of it. There’s supposed to be another guy in here. There’s anybody else in here, make yourself known.

Coty:                       It’s just me. I’m by myself.

Police Officer 1:          [Where’s] your partner?

Coty:                       My partner? What are you talking about?

Police Officer 1:        That’s what he’s doing in here. Eating all that shit up.

Coty:                     What are you talking about? Are you talking about my family members that come to visit me because I’ve got people here in West Virginia? Like what is the big issue, dude?

Police Officer 2:         Anybody in here, make yourself known.

Coty:                      What? Because you guys didn’t even show probable cause or a warrant? Wait.

Police Officer 2:         Anybody?

Coty:                        I don’t even know what I did wrong. You see what I’m saying?

Police Officer 2:         Marijuana grow.

Coty:                      Yeah. What, my plants?

Police Officer 2:      Yeah.

Coty:                       You feel good for busting some plants? I’m out here trying to stop [inaudible] coke and meth.

Police Officer 2:        Welcome to the search warrant.


Taya Graham:          Because of the arrest you just watched, Coty has been given a $100,000 bail, has been charged with the manufacture and cultivation of a controlled substance, transporting a controlled substance, obstruction, intent to distribute, and resisting arrest are some of the pending charges he is facing.

Now, setting aside the debate over whether or not marijuana should be legal, there are several disturbing facts surrounding this case. I mean, just an aside, marijuana has proven to be one of the most beneficial medicinal plants mother nature has ever created. The fact that it is used to lock people in cages and confiscate their property is a philosophical debate that we have had on this show, but is still worth mentioning in the context of the case we’re examining now.

But there is more going on behind the scenes that we have unearthed since Coty’s family contacted us about this case. Not only did they violate his constitutional rights as we can see here, but the facts that we have discovered for this questionable arrest paint this entire ordeal in a light much more disturbing than the simple arrest we’re watching now.

Which is why we decided to do some work and find out exactly what happened to the warrant and to dig into the finances and the police department of the small town in West Virginia. So to delve deeper into what’s going on, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.

Stephen Janis:        Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:             Now, Stephen, you have reached out, not just to police, but also prosecutors. What are they saying?

Stephen Janis:          Well, they haven’t gotten back to me, but I had some questions. Number one, is there a warrant? Was there a warrant? Where is the warrant? And other questions about the case itself: Is it okay for people who have legal marijuana to bring it into the state if they get it from another state? Why is this case being prosecuted? And how, exactly, are plants and what quantity of plants do you have to have with intent to distribute? I mean, that is a huge crime, And what is the threshold? Because none of this case makes sense.

Taya Graham:         You’ve been delving deeper into both the police department and the City of Milton in general. What have you uncovered? And what did you ask the mayor of Milton about what you found?

Stephen Janis:       Well, they have been issuing a tremendous amount of fines, almost 25%, 30% of their operation budget comes from fines. Half a million dollars, $600,000. And you’re talking about a city with a population of 2,500 people. I did the calculations. It means every person in the city has to get $250 in fines a year, every man, woman, and child. And so I asked the mayor. I said, Mayor, what exactly is going on in this town? Why are people being charged so many fines? Why is your police department such a profit center? And then on top of that, the police department takes up half of the operations budget, $1 million a year. So the fines don’t even support it, but pays for a lot of it so they can have 10 police officers. So the finances of this city are very suspect, and I think questionable, and probably have a lot to do with this case.

Taya Graham:            You also did something interesting and you reached out to the West Virginia tourism agency. Why did you do this? And what did they say?

Stephen Janis:          Well, I asked them very specifically if people coming into West Virginia traveling who had bought marijuana legally in a state or had a medical card or had a prescription, if they should come to West Virginia at all, because if you’re going to arrest people who have medical marijuana, people need to know about it. And I said, look, we get between 100,000 and a million people who watch our show and we want to warn these people, don’t go to West Virginia if you have a medical marijuana card because they’re going to arrest you, which is what they just did in this case. Believe it or not, they have not gotten back to me. But I’m going to stay on them.

Taya Graham:          Now, about 24 hours after you sent these emails, we got some breaking news on the case.

Stephen Janis:        Yeah, 24 hours after I sent the emails, there was an emergency bail hearing that wasn’t scheduled, that was called for Coty that reduced his bail by $80,000, with the stipulation that he leave West Virginia. So pretty interesting that –

Taya Graham:         Now wait a second. Do you think this is just a coincidence that Coty is given a hearing for a bail reduction after you sent emails to all these city officials? Or is there something else going on?

Stephen Janis:         No, Taya, I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think this is actually something because we asked some very pointed questions about the case and pointed out some flaws in the case. Now, I just got word that they won’t accept the bail that was set by the magistrate and the case has been forwarded to circuit court. So he’s in kind of a limbo right now, but we’re going to keep on it. Certainly, I think they’re responding to our pressure at this point.

Taya Graham:          And now for more details on what’s going on with Coty and why he’s still in jail and what this means for him and his family, I’m joined by his mother, Joni. Joni, thank you so much for joining us.

Joni Frye:               Thank you, Danielle. I was so shocked when you messaged me back. Thank you so much for hearing our story and trying to help.

Taya Graham:            Now first, how did Coty end up in West Virginia?

Joni Frye:              He had broken a brake line on the highway, stopped at a campground where, luckily, we had family about an hour away – My brother’s there – That could help him fix the brake line. So he had paid for a short stay at the campground so that he could work on his brake line.

Taya Graham:           Now, the video shows a prolonged standoff with police during which Coty continues to ask for a copy of the warrant. Can you talk a little bit about what we’re seeing?

Joni Frye:                 He’s like, give me a warrant and I will open the door peacefully and come out. He tells them that repeatedly. They threaten him. They make sly comments like, we know what you need. Talking about when he asked for the warrant and one of the officers literally says, I know what you need. Talking about beating him up or he needs a beating. And he’s like, look, I’m not trying to give you a hard time. Just show me the warrant and I will open the door. He’s like, you don’t have to break my stuff. So they crowbar the door. They bust in the window. And then he, the officer literally says to him, we’ll give you the warrant when it gets here.

Taya Graham:          So they charged him with intent to distribute. How does that make sense?

Joni Frye:           He had eight very small Delta flower plants, no buds on them. No nothing. Just like I said, you can imagine how small the closet of an RV is. And he literally, thank God, he goes to the closet, opens the curtain and says, I want everybody to see what this is all about.

Taya Graham:           So how have authorities in West Virginia behaved since he was arrested?

Joni Frye:            [Didn’t] get any cooperation from the police station down there where he’s at. They didn’t even want to help me figure out how to put commissary money on his… They didn’t even want to give me his inmate number. It took three phone calls for me to get his inmate number because they kept hanging up on me or being rude or transferring me to a line that wouldn’t pick up or, just to get an inmate number so that I could make sure that he had money to eat.

Taya Graham:          Now, they also charged him with possession of a firearm. Why was there a gun in his RV?

Joni Frye:                 I have no clue, but my son has never been into guns or violence. The most trouble he has ever been in in his life was maybe theft, because when he was on drugs he got in some trouble for robbery. He went to prison for a year in Florida for robbery. He was strung out on drugs, but he’s completely turned his life around. He’s got a four year old who has slight autism. He’s not potty trained and he doesn’t speak yet, which they don’t like me to call it autism. They’re, I guess, hoping he’ll outgrow it. They’re young. They don’t want to believe that. But he also has a two year old little boy that he had custody of. Luckily they were with their mom at the time that this all happened. That’s why he was traveling, because they were with their mom. But 90% of the time they live with my son.

Taya Graham:        And how has this ordeal affected him? How is Coty doing?

Joni Frye:                  Yeah, he’s a wreck. His four year old just had his fourth birthday. They’re being raised by a single mom who is very young and now they have no dad. He’s a wreck. He’s a wreck.

Taya Graham:      Now, usually at this point in the show, I highlight some other aspect of policing which warrants attention because it’s related to the topic at hand. Meaning I pick an example of some egregious action or abuse by cops that I think would relate to the story we have just told. But today, I’m going to take a different tack. I’m going to take a deep dive into the City of Milton and examine the many ways it exemplifies all the problems with American policing and the overreach of the war on drugs that we talk about consistently on the show.

So, what do I mean? Well, as Stephen pointed out, the numbers in the city are stunning. In a community of only 2,500 people the Milton police have issued millions of dollars in fines over the past couple years, and in a city nestled in one of the poorest counties in the country where the median income is just $22,000. The amount of money spent on things like recreation and housing is a mere penny on the dollar compared to the cash invested in law enforcement. And an area that has been saturated with opioid pills and overdose deaths spends literally nothing on public health according to the budget documents we reviewed.

I mean, is there anything in the budget for addiction treatment or drug treatment centers or needle exchange or anything that might save lives? Not hardly. In fact, in addition to spending $1 million funding police operations, the town allocated an additional $400,000 of its capital budget to the cops, meaning for more police equipment or weapons, maybe tactical vests, while other social needs were simply ignored.

The point is that in this small little West Virginia town, you can see all the misplaced priorities that American policing projects in all its stark and irrefutable glory. This small rural community spends a million dollars on cops while allocating nothing for the type of infrastructure and social programs that could actually heal the people who are hurting. This tiny hamlet smack in the middle of rural America puts as much, if not more, into cops than my own crime-suffused City of Baltimore. How’s that for great public policy?

This is why, in general, Americans have lost faith in government. Because these questionable priorities reveal that the people who run this country care more about preserving their own power than they do about building stronger cities and communities. They’d rather invest in a badge and a gun than a school or a park. They’d rather assess fines and court fees to pay cops than build parks and recreation to beautify the city for the people who live there.

But that’s not all, not hardly, because just take a look at the Facebook page of the Milton Police Department. If you scroll down, you’ll see pictures of people at the worst moment of their lives disseminated to the public via an audience of potentially millions. Each one includes a little caption that paints a picture of the person as a downright despicable criminal, a person with no agency, no intrinsic value other than the fact that they are fodder for a police department Facebook page. And that’s the point.

And I would like to add that this police department’s Facebook page is doing actual harm. It’s not just ruining the reputation of the people they arrested, potentially keeping them from getting a job or housing, but is doing literal harm. One of the recent Facebook posts showed that the police arrested three people who called for help when a friend overdosed from opioids. They let the public know that if you call for help to save someone’s life, you can be arrested. Does that sound like a policy to protect and serve or preserve public safety? Does that sound like good policy for a country in the midst of an opioid epidemic?

What we see here is the classic intersection of propaganda and police overreach working in tandem to distort and deflect the humanity of a community. We see how police are now empowered to create their own propaganda that can be used against us. How they’ve become the narrator of our lives, and in doing so control the contours of our political agency.

Because now police can simply post pictures of the people they arrest and frame them in the worst possible light imaginable. People who are somebody’s daughter or son or father or brother are depicted as worthless criminals. Human beings who more than likely suffer from addiction or are trapped in poverty or have made bad choices are now permanently memorialized on a Facebook page standing in front of a freaking tape measure.

I mean, forgive me for crashing your Facebook take-down party, but I thought this country was built upon the notion that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Are we entitled to a speedy trial by the jury of our peers before the scarlet letter of criminality is eternally imprinted on our digital lives? Don’t all of us deserve the benefit of the doubt? Well, not in Milton.

That’s because in this town of 2,500 people we are witnessing the political economy of policing writ small. Meaning, the Facebook page and the aforementioned spending imbalance on cops are two sides of the same coin. Just think about it. Doesn’t it make sense that if you’re dedicating more resources to cops than any other line item, you need to prove that that money is well spent. Doesn’t it take a little taste of fear, so to speak, to coerce people to accept spending millions on law enforcement and almost nothing on parks and public health? I mean, if you’re putting almost all the money that you extract from the public through fines and fees into paying police salaries, don’t you need to conjure villains who can only be stopped by the brave heroes driving around the town? Isn’t it imperative that you create a narrative where cops are out there nightly protecting residents from the evil hoards that would take away their sense of peace and prosperity?

It is astonishing to me that this small town in West Virginia literally embodies all of the inequalities that arise from the raw political power of policing that we are constantly uncovering through our reporting on this show. We see here in Milton how the unjust imbalance between resources dedicated to cops and the money allotted for community improvement is maintained and even bolstered.

That’s why the story of the arrest of Coty is so illustrative of the problem of chronic over policing. We have a man who is minding his own business with some hemp plants who is now facing five charges, thousands of dollars in fines, and perhaps lengthy incarceration. And, of course, add on to that a $100,000 bond and attorney’s fees and what we have here is nothing more than monetizing misery.

So not only are the police in this town sucking up resources that might otherwise be spent on vital communal services, but they are literally using questionable arrests of people like Coty to keep the fear and the cash flowing. That’s why when we look at the finances of a city like Milton, we see the same fiscal malfeasance that makes policing such a destructive force across the country. We see a nation that collectively spends $200 billion on policing but can’t afford to guarantee healthcare for all its citizens.

We see a country that has 18,000 separate police departments, funding lavishly and without restraint, while the country can’t find housing for millions of homeless people or build affordable homes for the working class. We see a law enforcement industrial complex that routinely overrides the rights guaranteed in our Constitution while politicians and political elites do little to stop it.

That’s why the story of Coty matters. And that’s why what we have learned about the city is worth reporting. I think that what the City of Milton reveals about the overwhelming power of law enforcement to tax us and then spend on themselves is critically important to acknowledge because the imbalance of power exemplified in Milton affects every single one of us. And until we address it, or better, redress it, we will never have the community that we deserve.

And just as a side note, to counter the image of Coty the police have posted for all to see, let’s take a moment to show the loving father and caring son and human being that Coty actually is.

I’d like to thank my guest, Joni, Coty’s mother for taking the time to speak with us. Thank you, Joni.

And, of course, I have to thank Stephen Janis, the intrepid reporter, for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis:             Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:           And I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee.

And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at and share your evidence with us. You can, of course, message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter, or you can message The Police Accountability Report on Facebook or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. It really helps us. And of course, I do read your comments and appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions whenever I can.

My name is Taya Graham and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

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Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns. Follow her on Twitter.

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award winning investigative reporter turned documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, The Friendliest Town was distributed by Gravitas Ventures and won an award of distinction from The Impact Doc Film Festival, and a humanitarian award from The Indie Film Fest. He is the co-host and creator of The Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, which has received more than 10,000,000 views on YouTube. His work as a reporter has been featured on a variety of national shows including the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, Dead of Night on Investigation Discovery Channel, Relentless on NBC, and Sins of the City on TV One.

He has co-authored several books on policing, corruption, and the root causes of violence including Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He is also the co-host of the true crime podcast Land of the Unsolved. Prior to joining The Real News, Janis won three Capital Emmys for investigative series working as an investigative producer for WBFF. Follow him on Twitter.