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Truth Squad | Michigan Republicans foul Whitmer on destroyed evidence claim

November 6: Gretchen Whitmer projected winner in Michigan governor race
Related: Truth Squad | Fact-checking Michigan’s second, final governor’s debate

The Michigan Republican Party released a digital ad claiming Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer failed to act as interim Ingham County prosecutor in 2016 when her office discovered that evidence had been damaged in hundreds of criminal cases, and failed to prosecute sexual predator Larry Nassar.

News coverage at the time, and Ingham County documents and reports related to the incident, suggest otherwise. Truth Squad rates this ad FOUL.

October 2018: Truth Squad | Michigan Republicans, Schuette mislead on Nassar
January 2018: Truth Squad: Gretchen Whitmer’s role in Larry Nassar case

THE CLAIM

“For Gretchen Whitmer, it’s not about people. It’s about politics,” a female narrator states in the ad. “Whitmer is a Lansing insider who will protect Lansing insiders, not Michigan families. Just like when Whitmer failed to act after hundreds of pieces of evidence, including rape kits, were destroyed. Or when Whitmer chose not to prosecute the largest sexual assault case in our state’s history. Why? Whitmer was too busy running for governor. That’s not leadership, that’s politics. And that hurts our families. Vote no on Gretchen Whitmer. Michigan families deserve better.”

THE FACTS

In 2016, the Lansing State Journal reported that as many as hundreds of pieces of evidence kept by the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office had been damaged dating back at least four years, and sheriff’s officials had failed to tell county prosecutors.

Ultimately, evidence in more than 1,700 cases were destroyed or not properly recorded, and 79 cases were dismissed due to the missing evidence.

Whitmer, who was temporarily filling the prosecutor’s seat until a new prosecutor was elected, told the newspaper at the time she was not aware of the evidence issues until notified by the newspaper. Whitmer would go on to hire Catherine Emerson, a special prosecutor, to audit cases from the county sheriff’s office dating back to 2010 and asked Michigan State Police to investigate whether any laws had been broken, as she noted in her year-end report to Ingham County commissioners.

The prosecutor’s office’s final report was released in the spring of 2017, after Whitmer’s six-month stint had ended and elected Prosecutor Carol Siemon had taken office. Ultimately, no criminal charges were filed related to the evidence issue.

Whitmer formed her gubernatorial campaign committee on Jan. 3, 2017, again after she had left the prosecutor’s office, and the same day she announced she would run for the state’s top office.

Sarah Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state GOP, referred Truth Squad to Whitmer’s May 2016 radio interview with WKAR in East Lansing, after she had been named interim Ingham County prosecutor, in which Whitmer said she was looking at running for governor, but that she likely would not make a decision until “early next year,” meaning in 2017.

Whitmer spokesman Zack Pohl said: “Michigan voters will see this ad for what it is, a desperate smear from a losing campaign.”

[On the ad’s claim that Whitmer opted not to prosecute Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar on sexual assault charges, Truth Squad twice has ruled the available evidence supports Whitmer’s version of events: That she was waiting for MSU police to produce more evidence before making a charging decision, but police opted to take the case to the state’s attorney general instead. The available evidence does not support a conclusion that Whitmer refused to prosecute Nassar.]

THE RATING

Ingham County records and newspaper reports contradict the Michigan Republican Party’s assertion that Whitmer failed to act when presented with information about damaged evidence in criminal cases.

Anderson, the state GOP spokeswoman, told Truth Squad that “investigation with no outcome is not action.”

That’s ridiculous.

Whitmer did what any responsible prosecutor would do, particularly one new to office: She took action to find out the facts. Whitmer appointed a special prosecutor to audit the sheriff’s evidence collection and its effect on criminal cases and asked state police to investigate for criminal wrongdoing. The results of both probes were completed in 2017, months after Whitmer left office, which left those decisions to her successor.

Further, while it’s naive to think Whitmer wasn’t testing the waters about making a gubernatorial run in 2016 while serving as interim county prosecutor, she did not formally throw her hat in the ring until January 2017, again after she left office.

For these reasons, Truth Squad finds the Michigan Republican Party’s ad to be FOUL.

Related: 2018 Bridge Michigan Voter Guide: Links to our relevant election coverage

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