Home Invasion: the Coker Family Incident

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Situation: Home invasion in a nice neighborhood on a morning like any other.

Lesson: Nice neighborhoods aren’t immune. Pick up the gun before you run to the danger. If you and your spouse are both armed and trained, you’re more than the sum of your parts

On the night of August 14, 2014, Marquise Trevel Yates was planning a hit. A member of a Jacksonville, Florida gang calling themselves The Cutthroat Committee, he had picked a target. He had noticed a house in a nice neighborhood where, a couple of nights a week, several cars came and stayed for a while. In his world, that meant one of two things: illegal gambling, or a drug house. Either way, there would be cash — he told one of his associates he figured on $90,000 at least — and maybe drugs to boot.

In the house, Pamela and Foster Coker slept peacefully, their seven-year-old grandson slumbering in the guest room. They regularly had members of their church over to their home for game nights and Star Trek marathons: These were the strangers Yates had observed and misidentified.
They had no way of knowing Marquise was coming.

Morning

At about 6:20 the following morning, Pam had been the first of the family to arise, the little boy and her husband each sleeping in. She went to the dining room to dress so she wouldn’t wake anyone. She heard a loud thump at the back door. Because the neighborhood was home to many feral cats and other animals, she thought nothing of it.

But then she heard another, louder noise, and realized it was something else. A very tall man burst through the door he had just kicked down, spotted her, and lunged at her. She turned and ran, but he was too fast. He grabbed her and slammed her brutally to the floor. Pain shot through her body. She screamed out to her husband.

Awakened

Pam’s screams jolt Foster from a deep sleep. He bolts from the bed clad only in his sleepwear, an old favorite tee shirt and a pair of gym shorts, and runs to the sound, his heart already racing. As urgency blasts him wide awake, he realizes what she is shouting is “Get your gun!” but the family weaponry is already far behind him in the bedroom. He is both barefooted and barehanded.

Foster explodes into the living room to see his wife crumpled at the feet of the towering attacker. He lunges at the man, grappling with him, pushing him back away from his injured wife.

The masked intruder smashes him in the head with some hard object. He can’t see what it is. Through the fog of the head blow and the blood beginning to pour from his scalp into his eyes, Foster can see something long and black protruding from the bottom of the man’s hand. “A pipe,” he thinks, as the man hits him again and again.

Pistol-Whipped

Under the rain of vicious blows, Foster cannot yet perceive he’s being pistol-whipped. The black object in the attacker’s hand is actually a Beretta Centurion pistol, .40 caliber, with an extended magazine protruding from its butt. The weapon descends again, and again, each swing catching Foster Coker in the head. He realizes he’s facing unconsciousness, and if that happens, he knows he’ll be helpless to defend his wife and grandchild.

He yells to Pam, “Get me a gun!”

The deadly intruder is taller than he, but Foster is a big man in his own right. He picks the attacker up and bodily throws him as far as he can. The masked man’s back hits the front door, and as his legs scramble to keep him upright, the doormat slips from under his feet and he falls on his butt, landing in a sitting position with his back to the door.

Foster turns to look for Pam, and suddenly she’s there, thrusting a revolver into his hand. It’s a snub-nose Taurus 5-shot .38 Special. He turns back toward the man, firing as he goes, from the hip.

And in the middle of the volley, he sees a gunshot explode from the other man’s hand, aimed his way. Only now does he realize the object the man had been bludgeoning him with is a handgun. Foster keeps firing. At the second and third shots, he hears the man utter a primal scream.

Coker has been able to keep track of his shots: Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. His mind racing, he realizes his 5-shooter is empty, and the other man’s gun with its now recognizable extended magazine most certainly isn’t. He drops the Taurus, and as he dives at the attacker he shouts to his wife, “Get me another gun!”

Gun Grapple

Foster’s left hand closes on the forearm above the intruder’s right hand, the gun hand, trying to keep it pointed away from himself. It becomes a wrestling match. The taller, thinner man is wiry and amazingly strong, fueled by desperation and rage. He is shouting “Come on, boss, I got this! Come on, bro!” But Foster Coker won’t be distracted by trash-talking. When he loses his grip on the gun arm he goes for a reverse head-lock, a hakimi-waza with the man’s main body mass in front of him instead of beside him, the intruder’s torso parallel to the floor. Pain shoots through Foster as the intruder bites deeply into his left side and underarm area, but he hangs on.

They’re on the floor. Foster grabs the man’s head and starts pounding it against the floor. The intruder gets Foster’s left little finger in his mouth and bites down, hard, but Forest ignores the pain.

Wife Joins Fight

And now Pam is back, with another gun. Her husband shouts to her, “You’re gonna have to shoot him!” Rising to his feet, Foster picks the man up with him. His left side and the attacker’s right are now toward his wife. She calls to him, “I can’t! I’ll hit you!” Foster shoves the man as far away from himself as he can without letting go and tells Pam desperately, “You have to shoot him now!”

Pam opens fire.

The masked man jerks with the impact once, and again. Foster feels him weakening, deflating. The man collapses to the floor in a sitting position, his back against the sofa.

But the black pistol with the extended magazine is still in his hand, and he’s still moving.

Keeping his eye on the threat, Foster reaches out to Pam, and she presses the gun into his hand. It’s a short-barreled RG .38 Special revolver he has inherited from his grandfather. Bringing it up to line of sight, right hand only, Foster aims at the bandanna-covered head and fires one more shot.

He sees the man go completely limp, his head pitching forward. It’s over.

Foster staggers back, catching his breath. Pam, badly hurt in the initial encounter with the intruder, hobbles to the phone to call 911. Foster sees the gun is still in the gunman’s hand, and he grabs it with his own left hand, keeping the .38 leveled on him with his right. With time to think now, he remembers his antagonist screaming “Come on, bro,” and realizes instead of trash-talking, he might have been calling to an accomplice. Foster keeps his head on a swivel, watching both the downed gunman and the back door.

When police arrive Marquise Yates, 21, is dead, and there are no accomplices present — now.

Results Of Investigation

The JSO, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, is one of the best trained law enforcement agencies in the nation, and one of the most experienced in the investigation of violent crime. They quickly determined Marquise’s gang connections, and his history. “I was told he had just gotten out of prison for shooting someone when he was 16. He got out after five years and went right back to it.”

Far from being a lone home invader, Yates had been one of a trio. There had been another member of the gang at the back door. He had apparently fled, Forest learned, after hearing the homeowner yell, “Get me a gun!” A young woman accomplice had been outside driving a getaway car. Both had escaped the scene.

Foster told American Handgunner in 2019, “The guy who ran got convicted of murder for Yates’ death, got 15 years in a plea bargain. The female getaway driver cooperated with the police and got seven years. There was another participant who helped to plan it. He didn’t come but later made threats to come back and kill us ‘crackers.’ He wound up with 10 years for being a convicted felon with a firearm. All that took three years to play out. We didn’t get our guns back until then, because they were evidence. By then, the police told us, the Cutthroat Committee was pretty much out of business from the chain of arrests that started with the attack on hour home.

Reconstruction

“The Beretta .40 was never tracked successfully,” Foster Coker told me. “Police discovered the extended magazine was loaded with 9mm ammo so after the first shot, it did not feed.”

The single shot Yates got off during the initial exchange of gunfire missed Foster — sort of. Medics found a graze wound on the side of his head they attributed to Yates’ shot. Mr. Coker had never even felt it during the heat of the deadly battle. The bullet had gone through a wall behind him, into the guest room, and shattered a lamp near his little grandson’s head.

Both of the Cokers sustained serious injuries. Foster had multiple lacerations and serious closed head trauma from the pistol-whipping. No infection ensued from Yates’ bites into soft tissue, but the bite to Coker’s hand caused a crushing fracture of the little finger. “The bone looked like someone had been chewing on a Number Two pencil,” Foster remembers.

Pam’s injuries were more long-lasting, sustained when her much larger attacker savagely threw her to the floor at the opening of the encounter. Foster says, “When he knocked my wife to the hardwood floor, he dislocated her left kneecap, tore her left meniscus and left anterior cruciate ligament, and broke her left big toe. Her right hamstring was also torn during the ordeal. She was in a wheelchair for several months, walks with a cane or walker today, and needs a knee replacement. She couldn’t get the additional surgery on her knee because it was excessively swollen for months, and the orthopedist wanted the swelling to subside first. She was only allowed three moths off work and had to go back to work before the surgery could be done. Her health insurance coverage changed the following year and surgery is now less affordable.”

And Yates? He had been hit with two of Foster’s five rounds from the Taurus, which had been loaded with light, fast Winchester Silvertip .38 Special jacketed hollow points. One is believed to have caused a through and through wound of the forearm. The other, however, hit heart and aorta, and Foster believes that was the mortal wound.

One of Pam’s bullets had struck Yates in the neck and lodged in the spine, which would be consistent with Yates’ collapse at that point. The RG revolver she used, said Foster, was loaded with 148-gr. lead mid-range wadcutter .38 Special rounds, which had been scored across their flat frontal surface. One of these was fired in the final shot, the head shot, and Foster says “I never found out if they opened up or not. That last bullet rode around the side of his head and did not penetrate the skull.”

Aftermaths

Yes, “aftermaths,” plural. Legal. Emotional and psychological. Social. And of course, as we’ve already discussed, physical.

The police arrived expeditiously, and years later, the Cokers are still grateful for the professionalism and compassion hey demonstrated. Veteran street cops and investigators tend to be remarkably perceptive in such matters. “The cops were very understanding,” Foster told us. “They came in with guns drawn. The first guy through the door told me to put my gun down; I had already put the guns down when I saw them coming. One officer told me later, ‘It was pretty easy to figure out what happened.’” He adds, “One officer wrapped our grandson in a blanket and carried him out of the house, so he wouldn’t see the gory scene. Pam and I will always appreciate that.”

He continues, “An Assistant State’s Attorney came out that day, did a walk through, and told the cops ‘I think we can put this one down as justified.’” Angela Corey, who at the time had just gotten done losing her prosecution of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting, was State’s Attorney for the district. Though not widely seen as friendly to armed citizens, she was sympathetic to the Cokers. “Angela Corey was a high school classmate of my wife. She was very kind to us. She brought us into her office and talked to us personally,” Foster told us.

While the Cokers never heard from the family of the deceased, police intelligence gathered information of death threats against them from Yates’ fellow gang members. “The police recommended we stay elsewhere for months during the death threats. At first friends of ours came over with guns to guard us. The police convinced us to move so we got an apartment for 10 months, which was financially devastating, paying our home mortgage plus apartment rent. The city did help with the mortgage for two months.”

He continues, “I have to say friends and family were extremely supportive. Friends and neighbors flooded over to the house. Even some of my most adamantly anti-gun lefty friends were supportive. The Justice Coalition of Jacksonville supported us and attended court hearings with us and on our behalf.”

Psychological aftermath? Says Foster, “The first few nights were awful, we couldn’t sleep at all. We felt too vulnerable to take the sleeping pills the doc gave us. Even at friends’ houses, and the one night the police put us up in a nice hotel, we were still hypervigilant. My wife had nightmares. She can’t tolerate loud, sudden noises or people walking behind her in a public place.”

Their seven-year-old grandson had called out to Pam when he was wakened by her scream in the opening of the gunfight. Pam had shouted for him to stay in his room; she learned later he had huddled there and prayed during the death battle. Foster says, “Our grandson was pretty shaken up. Even to this day he doesn’t like to talk about it. He once said to me, ‘Next time that happens you need to shoot him in the leg or something.’ All the rest of his sleepovers until age 11 he slept in our room.”

Lessons

You always go to the participant first for the lessons. Foster Coker offers these learning points: “I should have come out with my gun as soon as I heard the screams. My wife hadn’t done a lot of shooting, and had only shot a revolver. She grabbed what she knew how to work. She didn’t know my Firestar .45 auto, my regular everyday carry then, was in my night table drawer.” A 7-round .45 might have ended the fight sooner than that first 5-shot .38. He has upgraded his firepower since, replacing the Firestar with a Springfield XD Mod 2 .45, putting a Mossberg 500 12 gauge by the bed, and adding an AR15 to the Coker family home defense armory.

Foster Coker is glad he taught his wife to shoot. It was her shot to the home invader’s spine that seems to have really brought the death battle to an end.

Mr. Coker was a fast learner as to shooting from the hip, particularly while moving: one vital hit and one peripheral hit out of five rounds fired. By the end of the fight he had seen the importance of bringing the gun to line of sight: his single head shot fired that way went where it was aimed.

Another lesson: Don’t expect immediate incapacitation from heart shots. The annals of the Journal of Trauma are replete with cases of patients who have survived handgun wounds to the heart. The published work of highly experienced forensic pathologists such as Doctors Vincent DiMaio, Werner Spitz and Abdullah Fatteh cite many men who committed mayhem after being shot in the heart. The rule of thumb is if the brain is fully oxygenated, even if the heart is completely stilled, there may be 18 seconds or more of purposeful physical activity before the heart-shot man becomes unconscious. And not all gunshot wounds will completely halt cardiac function. The case under discussion is a good example.

It was not lost on the couple Marquise Yates had kicked in their door with two “thumps.” Foster reports, “We put in a security alarm system and cameras. EZ Armor on the door. A metal plate inside the doorjamb with a very long bolt. The whole frame of the back door came away when he kicked it in. We replaced it with one with really long screws that go into the joist, and a hurricane-proof storm door outside of that.”

We thank Pam and Foster Coker, and we applaud their life-saving courage and determination. Foster finishes with this advice: “Always be prepared. Make a plan and discuss scenarios with your family. Make your home a fortress. All responsible family members need to know where your firearms are and how to use them.”

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