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Records: Dana Nessel made security sign non-disclosure deals; union balked

Dana Nessel
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has been the target of threats during her four years in office. Union members objected when she required special agents assigned to her protection to sign confidentiality agreements. (Bridge file photo)
  • Special agents guarding Attorney General Dana Nessel were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements
  • The deals were revoked after union complaint
  • Nessel has been the target of threats

LANSING — Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office required state special agents assigned to her personal security detail to sign non-disclosure agreements last year but eventually revoked them after employees complained, according to union grievance records obtained by Bridge Michigan. 

A 2021 complaint argued the non-disclosure agreements had an "adverse impact" on the agents — who work under the attorney general and typically investigate crimes — by altering the conditions of their employment as previously negotiated through collective bargaining.

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"This is in direct violation of the assigned duties, obligations and expectations of an attorney general investigator who is a certified law enforcement officer."

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Nessel’s office later voided the non-disclosure agreements as part of a settlement with the Michigan State Employees Association. The January 2022 settlement noted it was not an "admission" that the Department of Attorney General had violated the special agent’s collective bargaining agreement. 

A spokesperson for Nessel said the first-term Democrat was not personally involved in the request for non-disclosure agreements. Instead, Nessel’s “chief of investigations” had asked all special agents to sign the agreements “without the knowledge or prior approval of the attorney general,” Amber McCann told Bridge. 

McCann declined further comment on the circumstances of the non-disclosure agreements or how long Nessel has used special agents as an executive protection detail, which followed reported threats against the attorney general. 

Former Attorney General Bill Schuette did not have a security detail, according to former staffers. 

“The department does not comment on matters involving the security of the attorney general,” McCann said.

The union grievance documents were first published by Gateway Pundit, a right-wing website that claimed Nessel "forced her security detail" to sign the non-disclosure agreements last year after she was escorted from a college football game because she admittedly drank too much alcohol at a tailgate.

Matthew DePerno, the Republican attorney general candidate challenging Nessel in the Nov. 8 general election, also alleged a link between the non-disclosure agreements and football game in a Saturday tweet.

“So much for transparency from the ‘‘people's lawyer,’” DePerno wrote on Twitter.  “The people deserve transparency about how this day transpired and more from the AG's office.”

The non-disclosure agreements were not specific to Nessel’s public intoxication at the football game. They were requested by her office last year on Dec. 10, 41 days after the alcohol incident and one month after the attorney general voluntarily disclosed what she called “tailgate-gate” in a lengthy Facebook post.

Nessel won’t discuss details of her personal security, “mostly because there are real and persistent threats to her life and the lives of her family members made by well-armed individuals who have the means and ability to carry out these threats,” campaign spokesperson Sarah Stevenson wrote in an email to Bridge.  

The non-disclosure request from Nessel’s office came two months after a man — who pleaded guilty but mentally ill — was sentenced to five years probation for threatening to kill Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat.

Those threats, which the man had sent to an “acquaintance” in April 2020, "deeply impacted" her family, Nessel said at the time

"My wife was terrified to be in our home and one of my sons began to suffer from anxiety when learning of this incident. For months, each time a car would drive by the house, we would wonder if it was someone who was going to hurt us."

Nessel’s campaign said there are also charges pending against another man who made “menacing, antisemitic threats” against the attorney general, who shared a related voicemail last month during at Hate Crimes Conference. 

Previously published emails show Nessel's Chief of Investigations Thomas Fabus — who no longer works for the Department of Attorney General — requested price quotes from a private security firm in November 2020. 

That communication with DK Security came amid a surge in reported threats against public officials during the COVID-19 pandemic and one month after the FBI thwarted a plot to kidnap Whitmer, a case Nessel's office has helped investigate and is still prosecuting. 

Whitmer, like governors before her, has an executive protection team provided by the Michigan State Police. Members assigned to that detail “are not required to sign non-disclosure agreements,” said spokesperson Shanon Banner.

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that “like other state officials,” she is “provided protection as needed through a state contract with funds appropriated by the state Legislature.”

DK Security has provided armed and unarmed security guard services to the state government since at least 2017, before Nessel, Benson or Whitmer took office, according to a $67 million contract that prohibits the private firm from disclosing information that "should reasonably be recognized as confidential."

Nessel's office declined to say whether the Department of Attorney General had ever had its own contract with DK Security, which had offered to provide executive protection services for a base price of $28,560 per-week

By late 2021, the union complaint against the attorney general’s office indicates in-house special agents had begun providing executive protection services for Nessel. A supervisor first told colleagues to sign NDAs in a December 10 email. 

"At times Agents and Support Staff will be called on to assist with Executive Protection matters," the supervisor noted. "Nothing in this document should come as a surprise, as we all handle confidential matters daily."

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Former Detroit Police Chief Ralph Goodbee, who oversaw security details for several mayors through 2012, said his officers were not required to sign non-disclosure agreements at the time, but they could have been disciplined for disclosing information that violated other internal rules or regulations.

Non-disclosure agreements seem to be “used more prevalently now” for government security details, especially if officials are protected by private contractors, Godbee told Bridge Michigan.

Executive protection officers are expected to operate in a “cone of silence” so that the official they are guarding “can have the freedom to conduct government business without fear of conversations of a confidential nature being disclosed," he said. 

“I don't think it's unfair at all, to have an expectation that you can have conversations in an environment where you would not expect those conversations to be disclosed.”

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