Remains identified as 2006 missing person: Woman was possible witness against former J'Ville officer

Published on Friday, 20 June 2014 22:52 - Written by From Staff Reports

The remains of a woman who disappeared eight years ago after making outcries of sexual abuse against a former Jacksonville police officer have been found, officials reported on Friday.

Skeletal remains of Shunte M. Coleman, who was last seen July 3, 2006, were found on March 12 by a forester in a thickly wooded area in San Augustine County, east of the “T” intersection of Farm-to-Market Road 1196 and County Road 347, officials said Friday in a news release.

In 2007, Alvin Boykin talked to the Tyler Morning Telegraph about the day his friend, Ms. Coleman, left his Jacksonville home on foot. He said then that his home was an ad hoc shelter, offered to anyone needing a place to stay.

Ms. Coleman, a mother of two, had freely come and gone from his residence — but so had a handful of other women needing a boost. So when Ms. Coleman said she was leaving for a while, Boykin watched her go.

She didn’t come back. Neither did another frequenter, Terri Renee Troublefield Reyes, who disappeared around the same time as Ms. Coleman. The 38-year-old Athens woman was last seen alive on May 21, 2006, and was found dead and unclothed in Angelina National Forest in fall 2006.

The women knew each other from Boykin’s home, and both were pinpointed as potential witnesses to testify against former Jacksonville police officer Larry Pugh.

In 2006, Pugh was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the sexual assault of women while on duty and retaliating against a woman for reporting the crime.

Ms. Coleman and Ms. Reyes both went missing while Pugh was out of jail on bond — between February 2006 and August 2006.

In 2007, Pugh pleaded guilty to perjury for lying about sexually assaulting women while on duty. The next year, he was sentenced to 18 months for perjury. He was sued in two additional lawsuits by eight women claiming they also were sexually assaulted by him while he was an officer.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Pugh, 41, is incarcerated in Marianna, Florida, in a medium-security federal correctional institution with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp. His release date is listed as May 13, 2018.

Shortly after Ms. Reyes’ remains were identified through DNA testing in 2007, attorney Curtis Stuckey told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that he might have used Ms. Reyes as a witness in the civil trial, but he never had an opportunity to talk to her because she disappeared.

“She had made an outcry” to law enforcement, like several other women, he said.

Stuckey represented a 43-year-old Jacksonville woman who was raped and retaliated against by Pugh in a civil lawsuit against the former officer.

Stuckey said he also would have been interested in talking to Ms. Coleman as a possible witness against Pugh if she had not disappeared.

San Augustine Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Gary Cunningham said Friday that at this point, law enforcement cannot connect Pugh to Ms. Coleman’s disappearance and death, but officials are not ruling out any potential suspects.

He said an active investigation is being continued by the San Augustine County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Rangers and the FBI.

The San Augustine County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Rangers and the FBI, recovered the remains, which were examined by a forensic anthropologist at Sam Houston State University and then delivered to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where DNA extracted from the remains were entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), officials said.

On Thursday, the San Augustine County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Police Department were notified that the remains belonged to Ms. Coleman.

The woman who won the civil lawsuit against Pugh in 2007 testified in federal court that she was walking one night in March 2005 when Pugh offered her a courtesy ride in his police car. Instead of taking her where she wanted to go, he took her to a dark, empty trailer house.

“He raped me,” she said crying. “I was too scared to do anything.”

She said Pugh drove her back to the neighborhood and dropped her off.

In August 2006, after Pugh had been indicted on federal charges, the woman was again walking at night when a man in a van who was wearing sunglasses approached and offered her a ride. She said she recognized Pugh’s voice and declined.

As she walked away, Pugh got out of the vehicle and took his belt off. The two struggled and the victim tried to fight him, but he put his belt around her neck, she said. Pugh began dragging her toward his van and “by the grace of God,” the belt snapped and she escaped.

The woman admitted she had a criminal record and was fighting a crack addiction, she said.

Pugh pleaded guilty to the charges but denied ever having sex with her or any of the other women.

Joe Evans, an investigator for the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office, testified at the time that the plaintiff was the first of many women who made outcries claiming they were sexually assaulted by Pugh.

Evans said he talked to 25 to 30 witnesses, including women who claimed they had been raped by Pugh and people they had told, including ministers and police officers, who substantiated their claims. He said the witnesses were from Athens, Tyler and other areas.

Evans said Pugh preyed on vulnerable women who lived on the street and had drug or legal problems. One-third of them had pending charges, one-third of them were on parole or probation and one-third of them had no criminal charges, he said.