Health board accuses Michigan State Police of being lax on Capitol protesters

Michigan State Police say they understand frustrations with protesters who do not observe social distancing but that enforcing the governor’s executive order often involves giving people a warning first before issuing citations. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

A community health board in Ingham County has accused Michigan State Police and Lansing officials of endangering residents and undermining public health by failing to adequately control crowds at the state Capitol protesting coronavirus lockdown measures.   

The complaints, in letters sent Monday to Michigan State Police and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, came three days before another planned protest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus by severely limiting Michiganders’ movements and shuttering non-essential businesses.

Todd Heywood, chair of Ingham Community Health Centers’ Board of Directors, wrote that the organization was "deeply troubled" by how Michigan State Police has responded to anti-Whitmer protests that began April 15.



"Not only have these protests brought people into Lansing who then gathered on our streets (at the Governor’s residence) but they did so without practicing social distancing or wearing facemasks," Heywood wrote.

Despite videos, photos and social media images of the protest, WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids quoted the agency as  saying there were no violations of social distancing orders, Heywood noted in his three-page letter.

Those reports and witness statements — in contrast with the WZZM report — leaves "the public to draw the conclusion that you provided inaccurate information serving to minimize a very real public health threat and concerns that protesters were flaunting social distancing requirements," Heywood wrote. 

In the letter to Schor, Heywood wrote: “While we have great respect for the men and women of the Lansing Police Department who work day and night to protect our community, we cannot support the city’s failure to enforce public health orders specifically designed to protect the health of our community.”

The board members said “we implore you to actively and aggressively enforce” the executive orders during future protests.

The health board is a partner of the Ingham County Health Department and provides primary care to county residents. Heywood sent a copy of the letter to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. 

Vail said she took no position on the letters. But she said she, too, was concerned about a lack of enforcement and was surprised there were “no citations, nothing,” during the earlier protests.
Vail, a long-time public health officer and former research scientist, said she supports a process in which violators of safety protocols first receive warnings, but that citations are important for those who blatantly disregard orders — whether during protests or if businesses reopen in violation of Whitmer’s orders.

Those violations, she said, create “a relatively porous lock-down,” she said.

Heywood told Bridge the organization has had "ongoing conversations" with the mayor about the earlier protest. However, he said he was not authorized to speak further about the letters. Valerie Marchand, spokesperson for Schor, said the city "appreciates" the letter from the board and said the city first issues a warning before issuing a citation when people violate the executive orders. She noted that the Capitol building and lawn is under the jurisdiction of the state police, and added "for Thursday, we will continue to work the State Police and other agencies to ensure safety."

The letters come as Lansing braces for yet another protest against state policies. A group calling itself Michigan United For Liberty is planning a “3 in 1 protest” on Thursday outside the Capitol, Whitmer’s office and the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel. The demonstration will include speakers and tacos, according to an advisory.

Lansing City Council President Peter Spadafore said he’s been a “vocal critic” of Capitol protesters who “blatantly violate” the governor’s executive order by ignoring social distancing protocols or refusing to wear masks, and he's been "very discouraged, and quite angry, that it's turned into armed protests in an effort to intimidate lawmakers."

The Lansing Police Department does not have jurisdiction on Capitol grounds but has patrolled streets near the building at recent protests. During an April 30 demonstration, officers from East Lansing and the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office assisted Lansing Police, according to Spadafore.

But enforcing the governor’s stay-at-home order is a challenge, and something officials at all levels are “grappling with,” he said.

To cite someone for a social distancing violation, for instance, local police are first expected to talk to the person and issue a warning if they refuse to comply. The officer would then have to “stand there” to make sure the same person doesn’t violate the order again before issuing a citation or fine, Spadafore said.

“It’s not an excuse, really, it’s just a reality,” he said. “It’s a lot more complicated than just saying, ‘You’re not six feet apart.’ People still do have that due process right.”

Protesters who ignore safety protocols may have inadvertently carried the virus to or from Lansing, “but I think our community members are by and large smart about things, which is why you don’t see a huge spread here,” Spadafore said.

Michigan State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner told Bridge via email that at the two demonstrations on April 15 and 30, police didn’t issue any tickets or violations but made two arrests, for assault and disorderly conduct.

“Based on previous demonstrations over the last couple of weeks, it is evident that not all people voluntarily comply with the safety measures put in place through executive order to slow the spread of COVID-19, and for those people, we will be prepared to take enforcement action, as necessary,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Lansing Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office has not filed charges against protesters at any of the Capitol demonstrations, and only one related case has been referred by local police, said spokesman Scott Hughes. 

The owner of Classic Barber Shop, located less than a mile from the Capitol, violated Whitmer’s order by opening the day of the April 30 protest and reportedly giving a haircut to West Michigan GOP congressional candidate Tom Norton, among others.

But Siemon, in a statement issued May 1, said she did not file charges against barbershop owner Brian Caskey because he had “ceased any activities that would have been in violation” after a warning from Lansing police.

“That is consistent with our policy regarding the executive order and its enforcement,” she said. “Primarily, it is to be used as a tool of education as well as enforcement, and we have stated that we will take court action for those who ignore or dismiss warnings.” 

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Tue, 05/12/2020 - 4:16pm

Lax? In what way? What laws were broken? None! You idiots!!!
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a Trump fan. I just don't like the way he communicates. However, I cannot deny the fact that he is a good businessman and by running this country like a business, we saw great success.
Now, whitmer and those like her, all suffering from SEVERE Trump Derangement Syndrome, are using this false "covid" pandemic to do as much damage to the Trump economy as possible. It's pathetic. The numbers are in, and coronavirus WITHOUT a vaccine is no more deadly than the flu WITH a vaccine. This is a giant joke.
The governor's(actually, let's call her dictator or tyrant) "order" is not law; It has not been entered in the books by a judicial system approved by We The People; It is simply the thrashnig and screaming of a tyrant's tantrum, a tyrant who thinks she can exploit precedents relating to "state of emergency" conditions to push a political agenda.
We will not comply. We will not be stopped. We The People have spoken.
It is so funny to me that these tyrants and their followers would rather destroy everything for everyone than let someone disagree with them. You are all pathetic. Pathetically lazy, refusing to think for yourselves, the ultimate laziness that will lead to your destruction.
My bet is on this continuing and the cities and rural areas completely separating. It will not be safe for dead-minded city sheeple to venture into the country, and will not be safe for country people who think for themselves and take care of themselves to venture into the city. All of the good, independent patriots in the cities need to make plans to get out NOW. The rural ares will starve the cities of resources and we will end up in an all out war.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 10:03pm

Doofus, Trump is an abject failure in every regard as "businessman" and "president", but what would you do if you were a life guard at a public pool and someone was peeing in the pool? Nothing? What if someone crapped in the pool? Would you ban that person from the pool? Would you clear the pool and clean it before you allow anyone to return? The virus that is being spread by people not observing social distancing is like pee or poop in a pool.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 10:42pm

Let me get this straight, "Anonymous", if you were Donald Trump, you would consider yourself a failure?

Holy Cow! What are your standards for success? Transmutation into a being of pure energy who can create, destroy and reorganize matter into any concievable thing using only your thoughts? LOL!

Get you of here, you TDS troll.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 10:32am

You are just proving your own stupidity. You list no examples of succese and then insult people disagreeing with you. Meanwhile Trump has declared bankruptcy numerous times including on a god damn casino. Even when other people literally gambled their money in a system designed for him to rob them he couldnt make a profit. His father even illegally purchased millions in chips from Trumps failing casinos trying to keep him afloat. You are proving you dont educate yourself and that if you do your cognitive dissonance is too great to accept information that collides with your POV.

With the American economy after he took over growth slowed in each quarter. So he failed there too. Then there are all the fall out from his actions like allowing mercury waste to be dumped into waterways and a return to blast top mining. You are just an incredibly incredibly ignorant person.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:26am

Jesus, you are mistaken,,and don't ever think this is about Prez. Trump,,it is about the Constitution and the B.O.R. which many will fight and die for, just like our Fathers did in foreign wars.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 10:35am

Like Jesus said, you are an incredibly ignorant person. Jesus already took you to task for calling a man who bankrupted a casino a success. Now let me point out you are posting misinformation and showing you are not an informed person by saying covid is no worse then the flu. Its had a higher mortality rate then the flu already and thats WITH most of the country being on lock down. Thats with us being only a few months into the year. Nothing says Trump supporter like lying through your teeth and spreading propaganda and misinformation I guess.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 6:03pm

I didn't realize that the First Amendment contained exceptions to be spelled out by disgruntled local politicians and petty little bureaucrats who didn't like the message being presented.

Government derives its power from the governed.

Sound like those same politicians and bureaucrats as losing something near and dear to them, which is more concerning to them, than our Constitutional Rights.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 6:15pm

Shocker - bureaucrats dependent on the state for funding support Whitmer. Dumb fools are all going to lose their jobs when the loss of tax revenue hit them due to Whitmer’s dictates.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:55am

It will be far worse than a "loss of tax revenue", it will be total destruction of our economy and all that supports!! B.O.R. forever!!

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 6:15pm

Shocker - bureaucrats dependent on the state for funding support Whitmer. Dumb fools are all going to lose their jobs when the loss of tax revenue hit them due to Whitmer’s dictates.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 10:44pm

You know what's really funny about this? The people who are saying that the police were "Lax" with the peaceful protesters (No violence! No agression! It was great!) are the same people who freak out and call cops bigoted racist stasi when they arrest a violent minority who shot at or punched them (or someone else). Their double standards have double standards and those double standards have double standards! How can they even tell which way is up? Actually, it appears that they can't tell... Lol!

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 10:41am

White people carrying guns and threatening law makers = Peaceful
Black people being arrested by the cops = Assumed violent
Ya you totally are not a bigot or racist at all. Again every time you people open your mouth you prove you cant take care of yourselves and dont deserve a voice. The conservative barber who opened back up literally took his mask off less then 1 foot away from the man whose hair he was cutting to answer a phone call, then turned to a reporter and said "we are adults, we know how to follow safety protocol and protect ourselves". Here at the forums its red hatters insisting they are peaceful as they literally threaten people and saying a guy who ran a casino into the ground is a successful business man. You people couldnt be living in a bubble anymore. You literally just pretend the world is whatever you want it to be. Black man beaten must have deserved it, white guy carrying guns and threatening people is a peaceful protestor and people who fail and file for bankruptcy numerous times are somehow seen as great leaders and accomplished titans of industry.

Conservatism is just a cult of cognitive dissonance at this point.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:56am

Wow. The idiotic responses and accusations by the leftists here proves that TDS is far more dangerous and lethal than the Chinese corona virus. Their brains have been totally fried! Seems that no cognitive thought or reasoning is possible by them. They've been programmed with one overriding thought only. Orange man bad!!! Here's hoping they seek treatment and are cured.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 12:02pm

Moses, you are, again, mistaken, and sound very much like a Marxist, confused, deceived, and maybe, maybe a racist yourself....

Paul Jordan
Wed, 05/13/2020 - 10:47am

Mr. Spadafore's statement that each non-compliant individual must be personally warned is a way to sidle away from responsibility. The state police should announce via loudspeaker to any crowd that individuals will be cited if they do not wear a mask, and do not practice social distancing.

After that, they should strictly enforce it--even if the miscreants are armed. If the order is ignored because the protestors are armed or if the violations continue during subsequent protests, then the governor should declare it to be a vicil disturbance and call in the National Guard to enforce her order.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:19am

Health Board wants cops with guns and real bullets to squash the rights of political dissent and assembly!!! Read the Bill Of Rights and Constitution folks,,REQUEST DENIED!!!!!

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 5:55pm

I feel bad for all of you non-essential people who have to stay under house arrest because you can catch the virus. Myself, I'm essential so I can't get the virus and I can go to work and earn money and pay my bills. I've got a degree though, and I'm honestly better than you poor hairdressers and low-level salesmen. I do feel bad for you though.