Disturbing for Peace

Timothy Coil was trying to save lives. Everyone else says he was a threat.

Gulf War conscientious objectors Stow and Munroe Falls First Amendment rights
Gulf war veteran Timothy Coil was arrested while trying to  stop recruiting at the Stow-Munroe Falls Library. - Photo by Walter Novak
Gulf war veteran Timothy Coil was arrested while trying to stop recruiting at the Stow-Munroe Falls Library.
It's easy to understand Timothy Coil's contempt for the military.

The 40-year-old Hudson native enlisted in the Army as soon as he got his high-school diploma. For four years, he took pride in keeping Black Hawk helicopters airborne.

But when his wife Yvette became pregnant in 1990, Coil began to rethink his profession. "I had a huge moral awakening," he says. "I just couldn't find a way to justify taking another person's life anymore. It was clearly wrong to me."

So the day Josh was born, Coil swore he'd never carry a weapon again. But four days later, he was shipped off to the Gulf War.

Fellow troops weren't happy to have a conscientious objector in their midst. To his unit, Coil was little more than a dangerous and cowardly nuisance. He received death threats. His closest friend promised him the beating of his life. And his sergeant major gave him the worst duties, ordering him to drive fuel trucks through enemy fire. "I felt like I was being held hostage," Coil says. "Everyone was my enemy -- not only the Iraqis, but just daily life in the unit. I never knew who had it out for me."

Life wasn't much better for Yvette back at the base in Germany. She was shunned by the other wives for being married to a "chickenshit C.O." They refused to give her rides to the store, forcing her to walk in the snow with her newborn in one arm, her groceries in the other.

Still, Coil refused to surrender his beliefs.

When he returned from Iraq, Coil was honorably discharged. But the war's effects were far from over back in Hudson. "I know the Gulf War looks lightweight, compared to this war," he says. "But for us on the ground, it was not."

He suffered from bouts of anger and anxiety so debilitating, he became a recluse, locking himself in a room for days at a time. It wasn't until 2003 that he was finally diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

So on March 12, when Coil and his wife went to the Stow-Munroe Falls Library, it was a rare day out of the house. As Yvette worked on her laptop, Coil read magazines -- until he noticed two Army recruiters walk in with a new enlistee.

Sergeants Daniel Skywatcher and Rodger Stephenson were meeting with Tim Ellis to finish up some re-enlistment paperwork. As they closed the door to the study room, Yvette turned to her husband, who appeared panicked. "We should do something," she said. "We can't just let this happen."

Yvette quickly scribbled phrases like Don't do it! onto note cards and posted them in the study-room window. Skywatcher wasn't pleased. He asked the couple to stop. When they refused, he complained to library staff.

Director Doug Dotterer approached to find four more anti-war slogans in the window. "My husband is a Gulf War vet -- he can tell you the truth," Yvette wrote on one.

Dotterer scooped up the cards and told the couple to stop, or they'd have to leave. "Why don't we have our right to freedom of speech?" Yvette asked.

Dotterer was clear: "My library, my rules."

Coil slowly lifted his 300-pound frame from a chair. "I don't recognize your authority," he told Dotterer. "Give me back my cards." He towered over the bespectacled librarian, his steely blue eyes bloodshot with adrenaline.

Dotterer handed over the cards, then called the police.

When Officer Paul Schultz arrived, Coil and his wife were sitting quietly in their chairs. "May I see some identification?" he asked the couple.

"Did we break any laws?" Yvette responded. "Are we being arrested?"

Schultz said no. "I just like to know who I'm speaking with."

Coil refused to show his ID, growing more aggressive with each refusal. Schultz recommended they take things outside.

As he escorted the couple from the library, Coil stopped outside the entrance, raised his fist in the air, and shouted, "No recruiting at the library!"

For Schultz, that was too much. Coil was arrested for disorderly conduct. "His demeanor and his voice were such that I had no other option," the officer says. "His actions were not appropriate for a library."

While restricting free speech in a library may seem a contradiction, Dotterer says that's not the issue. "If you come into a public space and scream and intimidate others, I have no recourse but to get the police involved," he says. "Many people were afraid and didn't know what he was going to do. This was never about the First Amendment. This was about the safety of my patrons and staff."

On June 15, Cuyahoga Falls Judge Kim Hoover agreed. "This has little to do with expressing his political views and more to do with venting his anger," the judge ruled. Coil has yet to be sentenced.

As he sits in a diner next to his son Josh, now a teenager, Coil makes it clear he'll appeal. Josh proudly notes that people worldwide have been sending Dad money to fight the case, including a $350 check from England.

"They tried to portray me as a left-wing extremist," Coil says. "But I'm just a Christian, trying to stop young men from coming back in a box or becoming as emotionally damaged as I was. I want to prevent someone from having to see horrors that they'll never recover from. It's my duty."

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