Police arrested a former NFL player on Thursday for allegedly staging a hate crime at his own restaurant and ice cream shop near Atlanta, Georgia.
According to Gwinnett County police, Edawn Coughman, 31, trashed his businesses and spray-painted “MAGA” as well as swastikas and slurs on the walls to make it appear he was the victim of a racially motivated burglary. He was charged with false reporting of a burglary, insurance fraud and concealing a license plate.
Coughman, a former offensive tackle who attended Shaw University, played in the Canadian Football League before joining the NFL in 2012. He was signed by several teams during four seasons in the league but does not appear to have ever made an active roster.
A police officer responded Wednesday night to a call reporting a man damaging Create & Bake Pizza and Coughman’s Creamery in Lawrenceville, the department said Friday in a press release. The restaurant’s back door showed signs of a break-in.
Officers saw a man leaving the shopping center in a black Chevrolet pickup truck without a license plate, as described by the caller, and pulled the vehicle over, the release said. They found Coughman behind the wheel and several TVs that appeared to have been ripped off a wall in cab and bed of the truck.
According to the release, Coughman acknowledged being the owner of the businesses and said he had noticed the damage earlier in the day. He said he filed a report with his insurance company but not with the police.
Cpl. Michele Pihera told the Gwinnett Daily Post that Coughman may have attempted to “stage this as a hate crime.”
“We don’t know if he was trying to get attention for this,” Pihera said. “What we do know is, if that witness had not called us and if those officers had not responded as quickly as they did, we would probably be sitting here talking about a completely different crime in which Mr. Coughman would be trying to say he’s a victim.”
Coughman’s arrest comes amid mounting concerns about hate crimes in the United States. Leading Democrats, celebrities, journalists and activists have blamed what they say is a resurgence of violent white supremacy under President Donald Trump.
Some conservatives, though, have questioned the data behind such claims, and pointed to a number of “hate crime hoaxes” in the Trump era, the most famous alleged case being that of actor Jussie Smollett.