Charlevoix County Prosecutor Allen Telgenhof’s October news round-up

Charlevoix County Prosecutor Allen Telgenhof

The most talked about section of these newsletters continues to be the key cases.

Here are some of the cases we’ve been working on recently.

Though these may be the higher profile cases, they are a small part of the cases we handle on a daily basis.

The summaries below are from newspaper articles and news releases.

Please remember that with pending cases, charges against the defendants are mere allegations and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Police and prosecutors believe that the armed robberies of the Charlevoix E-Z Mart in March of 2013 and December of 2014 have finally been solved.

Last week, Matthew Allen DeNise, 21, of Charlevoix, was sentenced to 24 to 60 months in prison for his role as a co-defendant in the March 2013 robbery.  DeNise pled guilty to attempted armed robbery on September 21.

DeNise admitted that he and Dennis Robert McKee, 21, of Charlevoix robbed the station, located at the corner of US-31 and M-66 on March 26.  McKee placed a finger in his jacket to scare the clerk into believing he had a gun.

The perpetrators left with $275.52 which they said they stole in order to purchase drugs.

McKee also pled guilty and was sentenced on August 7, 2015 to 36 to 120 months in prison where he is currently held at the Carson City Correctional Facility.

At the time of McKee’s sentencing, Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney Allen Telgenhof said, “This defendant, by his own admission, has been utilizing drugs on a daily basis since he was 13 years old.  Too many people think that drugs are a victimless crime. Someone who has this serious of a problem cannot usually hold down a regular job and are forced to commit crimes to feed their habit.”

“By holding them accountable for their crimes, we are able in many cases to give these users the support they need to beat their addiction,” he added. “And by prosecuting drug dealers, we are helping to keep these drugs out of our community so that others do not fall prey.”

Also last week, Telgenhof announced that he had authorized a charge of larceny from a person, against McKee for committing the December 14, 2014 robbery at the very same E-Z Mart.  Larceny from a person is the same charge McKee previously pleaded guilty to and carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

As part of his deal in that case, McKee agreed to cooperate with police with respect to the second robbery.  He testified at a preliminary examination on June 4, 2015 that he planned the 2014 robbery with Blackwell but that he did not follow through and Blackwell acted alone.

Officials now believe that the evidence points instead to McKee, resulting in the change of defendants.

“This has been an ongoing investigation,” Telgenhof said.  “While there was evidence that Mr. Blackwell planned and committed the robbery and the judge found probable cause to believe he committed the crime, Deputy Chief Scott Hankins of the City of Charlevoix Police continued to investigate to be sure we had the right person.  There is evidence that Mr. Blackwell may have been involved in the planning but did not participate in the actual robbery.  As soon as the evidence pointed to Mr. McKee, we made the decision to dismiss the case against Mr. Blackwell and charge Mr. McKee.”

According to an affidavit filed in the new case, unlike the first robbery, McKee used an actual gun to commit this robbery.

“It has been a winding road finding credible evidence in these cases, but through the fine detective work of Scott Hankins and the tough but fair sentences from Judge Hayes, we have both of the people who committed the first robbery in prison at this time,” Telgenhof said.

A Charlevoix County jury deliberated for approximately 20 minutes on October 14 before rendering a verdict of guilty on all three counts against Fernando Dale Gamez, 22, of Boyne Falls.  The trial had lasted two days.

Gamez was convicted of possessing an illegal short-barreled shotgun, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and two counts of improper possession of a firearm in a motor vehicle, 90 day misdemeanors.

According to trial testimony in the 33rd Circuit Court, the charges arose out of a traffic stop in Boyne Valley Township on the early morning hours of March 20, 2015, when Michigan State Police Troopers stopped a vehicle in which Gamez was a passenger.  When the troopers approached the vehicle they saw two guns in the backseat, one a sawed-off 20 gauge shotgun and the other a 12 gauge shotgun.

Both guns were lying in the backseat uncased and readily accessible to Gamez, in violation of Michigan law. Police also seized 12 and 20 gauge shells in the backseat as well as on an ammunition belt worn by Gamez while in the vehicle.

The jurors heard testimony from Troopers Ben Eckola and Ron Nadeau as well as State Police firearms expert Ken Polhemus.  Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Mark Muniak prosecuted the case.

“Thanks to the jury for their time, consideration and patience,” Telgenhof said after the verdict.  “There are good reasons why the legislature has banned short barreled shotguns as they are easily concealed and very dangerous weapons.  Also any gun owner should know that to transport shotguns or rifles, they should be cased and not loose in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.”

“The Troopers did an excellent job discovering and addressing this dangerous situation,” Telgenhof said.  “They and Mark (Muniak) did a very nice job presenting the case to the jury.  The people of our county are safer because of the officers’ actions and this verdict.”

Gamez will be sentenced by Circuit Judge Roy C. Hayes III on Friday, December 4 at 9:00 a.m.

On October 14, prosecutor Telgenhof filed a civil lawsuit in the 33rd Circuit Court on behalf of the State of Michigan against Dennis Lee Hass and the Walloon Lake Water System, Inc.

Through the suit, Telgenhof asked the court to order the defendants to pay a civil fine of $25,000 for violating an Assurance of Discontinuance, an agreement signed with the Prosecuting Attorney’s office on September 10, 2013.

Hass was previously charged with a number of crimes, as was his wife. The primary charges were for criminal enterprise, where it was alleged that Mr. and Mrs. Hass were operating their business, the Walloon Lake Water System, in a manner that was essentially criminal in nature.

Judge Richard W. May dismissed these charges in late 2012.  A few of the lesser charges against Mr. Hass were bound over to circuit court, including extortion and slander of title.

After taking office, Telgenhof reviewed the pending charges and the evidence that had been obtained, spoke with many witnesses and customers of WLWS as well as officials from the State of Michigan and determined that, though there was probable cause to believe that crimes were committed, as was determined by Judge May, this was a matter that was more civil than criminal in nature and called for a remedy that would not just result in a small fine, but that could potentially change the way that the business was operated.

The Attorney General and county prosecuting attorneys have the right to file actions under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA).  Under that same law, they also have the right to accept an Assurance of Discontinuance from a person or business instead of filing an action.

An Assurance of Discontinuance is an agreement where the party, in this case, Mr. Hass and WLWS, agrees to discontinue certain actions that are allegedly violations of the MCPA.  The Assurance can also provide for payment of restitution to victims, as was done in this case – WLWS paid $7,500 to victims.

In addition to stopping the activities that led to the criminal charges, through the Assurance Mr. Hass and WLWS agreed that they would not retaliate against any of their victims or alleged victims.

Despite this agreement, they filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Grand Rapids in July of this year.  The people they sued include five customers of WLWS who were victims in the prior criminal case.

These people, customers of WLWS, were sued simply because they gave information to police or prosecutor’s office as part of the criminal investigation or were called to testify for the prosecution.

Telgenhof said that he believes that this suit is retaliation for the customers’ actions and as such is a violation of the Assurance of Discontinuance as to each customer who was sued.  These five violations of the Assurance are punishable under Michigan law of a fine of $25,000 or $5,000 per violation.

Once the defendants are served with the complaint, they will have 21 days to respond.  Telgenhof said after the answer is filed, he likely will file a motion for summary disposition asking the judge to decide the case summarily.

Shawn Rose Beeler, 30, of Chandler Township, pled guilty to intentionally discharging a firearm, a misdemeanor carrying with it a maximum penalty of one year in jail, in relation to a September 15 incident.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed in the case, Beeler saw a husband and wife riding ATVs picking apples on her farm.  Beeler approached the couple and told them to leave her property.

The couple moved, apparently in the belief they were no longer on the Beeler property, and continued to pick apples.  Beeler saw that they were still on her property, and got back on the ATV, this time with a gun which she allegedly fired to scare the apple pickers off the property.

The couple called 911 and officers responded to the scene, interviewed the witnesses, confiscated a gun and arrested Beeler.

Telgenhof explained that though Beeler was initially charged with felonies, “I believe that a jury might have concluded that she was not shooting at the victims and her intention was to get their attention with a shot in the air.  This is still dangerous and illegal behavior but I believe this crime (intentionally discharging a firearm) better fits the circumstances.”

Matthew Mark Fruge, 34, of Boyne City, was charged with the murder of Jacob Daniel Conklin, 34, of Arcadia, Florida.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, shortly after 7:00 p.m. on October 1, Fruge grabbed a knife and left his Bay Township home to confront Conklin.  A witness came to the scene and found Fruge on top of Conklin, who was lying on the ground.

They pushed Fruge off Conklin and discovered that Conklin was bleeding heavily from his neck and the knife was lying next to him on the ground.

By the time officers arrived at the scene, Conklin was not breathing and was unresponsive.  Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced him deceased.

A not guilty plea was entered on Fruge’s behalf.

The Court granted Telgenhof’s request that Fruge be held without bond, finding that Fruge presents a danger to the public and that there is a likelihood of guilt in the case.

“Once again, Charlevoix County police officers worked together in a very cooperative manner, with the Sheriff’s Department, Boyne City Police and the Michigan State Police all playing key roles in the investigation,” Telgenhof said.  “The officers responded very well in a very difficult situation.”

An open murder charge allows a jury to decide what degree of murder is appropriate, if any.  First degree murder is an offense that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole while a second degree conviction allows a defendant to be eligible for parole.

David Edward Stockford, 50, of Cheboygan, was sentenced to prison on two charges of receiving and concealing stolen property $1,000 or more but less than $20,000.

One of the charges carried with it a habitual offender sentencing enhancement, on that file he was sentenced to 24 months to 90 months in prison.  On the other file he was sentenced to 24 to 60 months in prison.  The sentences will be served concurrently.

The charges arose from the defendant twice driving stolen vehicles.  On June 8, 2015, an East Jordan resident found Stockford sleeping in his motorhome.  A Honda Shadow motorcycle was parked nearby, having been reported stolen onApril 11.

Shortly after Stockford was released on bond for that offense, he crashed a vehicle in Wilson Township, Charlevoix County.  The vehicle had earlier been reported stolen from Cheboygan County.

Judge Roy C. Hayes III noted that Stockford has a lengthy criminal history including five prior felony convictions and 17 prior misdemeanors.

On September 18 in the 33rd Circuit Court, Jesse James Johnson, 27, of East Jordan, was sentenced to 18 months to 15 years in prison on a charge of second degree home invasion.

Johnson pleaded guilty on July 24 to the charge, admitting that he broke into two homes in Hudson Township looking for food or drugs to steal.

The second home invasion charge was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.  Johnson was ordered to pay restitution to both homeowners totaling $1,899.03.

Benjamin Walter Bolser, 25, East Jordan, was sentenced to six months in jail and 36 months on probation following his guilty plea to a charge of accosting a minor.

Bolser admitted sending Facebook messages soliciting sex from a 15 year old Boyne City High School student while he was a student teacher there.

The six month sentence was at the high end of the sentencing guidelines, largely because Bolser had no prior criminal history.  Judge Hayes noted that in addition to the jail time, Bolser had already “paid a very severe price” and “incurred significant punishment.”

Michelle Deming who was Bolser’s supervising teacher addressed the court and said that Bolser “abused the privilege and gift” it is to work with students.  She pointed out that Bolser was only four weeks away from having his teaching certificate at the time his actions came to light.

According to his attorney and Judge Hayes, Bolser has now been dismissed from the Central Michigan University teaching program and is at risk of using his four years of college credit earned there.  He is on the Michigan sex offender registry for a 25 year period as a result of his conviction.

“The sex offender registration is the most important aspect of this conviction, in my opinion,” Telgenhof said.  “That will ensure that the defendant is not able to teach or work with children anywhere.  That is the best way to protect the public.”

Judge Hayes said that it appeared that Bolser had engaged in predatory behavior seeking out vulnerable potential victims and the only reason physical contact had not occurred was because the victims had rejected his requests.

“It is truly unfortunate that at least in the beginning of this prosecution, it was the victim who was being blamed,” Telgenhofsaid.  “The defendant was a popular figure at BCHS and some chose to place responsibility for his firing on her.  She was a child and she wasn’t the one responsible for the defendant’s actions or the consequences.  She never wanted to be in the spotlight or to see him punished, he is the one who brought all of this on.”

Mircea Mirca Barbu, 40, Sterling Heights, was sentenced to two years of probation, including 12 months in jail, with two months held in abeyance, on three convictions for possessing a fraudulent transaction device, and ordered $4,692 in restitution, the majority to Boyne Mountain.

Sentences on all three convictions will run concurrently.

The incident came to light when a downstate woman received a fraud alert from her bank stating that her card was being utilized at Boyne.  She not only called her bank but also called Boyne and alerted them of the incidents.

“The victim was a real hero in this case, most people would just call their bank and get the adjustment, she called Boyne, the other victim, and as a result, Mr. Barbu was caught,” Telgenhof said.

“Also there was tremendous police work from the beginning, with a combined effort by the Michigan State Police and Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Department. As the Judge noted, many areas don’t bother to investigate and prosecute these types of property crimes.  That isn’t true of law enforcement in Charlevoix County.”

Barbu used fraudulent credit cards, printed using stolen information from customers, to go on what Judge Hayes called “a shopping spree” at Boyne Mountain and other businesses, including Otsego County as well.

In 2011, Barbu was convicted of a similar offense in Ingham County and served 11 months in jail.  At the time of his arrest, Barbu had 14 fraudulent cards in his possession.

Zachary Dustin Frey, 22, of East Jordan was sentenced to serve 90 months-22 and a half years in prison for having sex with a 14 year old victim earlier this year.

Frey was on probation for a similar charge at the time of these offenses. According to an affidavit filed in the case, Frey used a cellphone that he was prohibited from using while on probation to set up various social media accounts to find and entice young victims.

On July 24 Frey pleaded guilty to third degree criminal sexual conduct, using a computer to commit a crime, accosting a minor and violation of the Sex Offender Registration Act.

Frey was also sentenced to serve 48 months to 10 and a half years on the computer crime offense; 24 months to six years on the accosting; and 24 months to six years on the Sex Offender Registration Act violation. All of the sentences will run concurrently.

“This prosecution was made possible through the joint efforts of Todd Assante, the defendant’s probation agent with the Michigan Department of Corrections, the Michigan State Police Internet Crimes Against Children division in Traverse City and the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Department,” Telgenhof said.

On Friday, October 16, Richard Lee France, 51, of Wilson Township pled guilty to the two most serious charges against him, carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent and assault with a dangerous weapon.

The crimes carry maximum penalties of five and four years in prison, respectively.  Lesser charges of use of a firearm in commission of a felony, domestic violence and possession of a firearm while intoxicated were dismissed in exchange for the guilty plea.

The charges arose from an incident on July 27 at France’s home when, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in the case, he allegedly fired an AK-47 assault rifle in the direction of a vehicle in his driveway that was attempting to leave.

Deputies from the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Department were assisted on scene by the East Jordan Police Department, Boyne City Police Department, and East Jordan Ambulance.

Officers negotiated with France by telephone and encouraged him to surrender, according to a news release by Sheriff Don Schneider.  France ultimately surrendered to police without further incident.

“It appeared briefly that officers may have a standoff situation, but the quick and reasoned response of law enforcement led to a peaceful outcome,” said Telgenhof. “It was a joint effort with the sheriff Don Schneider and undersheriff Chuck Vondra personally on the scene… East Jordan Officer Dan Reece was instrumental in talking to the suspect and encouraging him to surrender.”

At his plea hearing, France that he fired the weapon “to get (his) point across.”  France will be sentenced on November 13in the 33rd Circuit Court.
An East Jordan man is facing several criminal charges amid allegations that he broke into a seasonal home and hauled many of the contents away on a flatbed trailer.

Patrick Grant Jacobson, 52, was bound over to circuit court on charges of first degree home invasion, manufacture of marijuana, a four-year felony, and unlawful driving away a motor vehicle, a five-year charge.

At the preliminary examination, police officers testified that a resident on Graham Road called 9-1-1 on July 2 to report a breaking and entering in progress. According to the testimony, East Jordan police officer Brent Seese and chief Dale Boehm arrived to find the defendant riding down Graham Road on a four wheel all-terrain vehicle pulling a flatbed trailer with household items believed to be stolen from the home, the owner of which lives out of state.

Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Scholey obtained a search warrant, which led to the seizure of numerous items from Jacobson’s home that were identified as belonging to the victim. Police also located a small grow room containing marijuana plants in Jacobson’s home.

Jacobson has prior felony convictions for burglary, attempted burglary, uttering and publishing and delivery of marijuana and narcotic drugs. He also faces a habitual offender, fourth offense sentencing enhancement added to the charges, which could increase the maximum penalty for Jacobson up to life in prison.

Jacobson remains lodged at the Charlevoix County Jail in lieu of bond while he awaits further court proceedings.

James Franklin Cook, 53, of Boyne City, has been charged with three counts of assault with intent to murder, three counts of felonious assault, assaulting a police officer causing serious impairment, felony firearm, breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny, unlawful driving away a motor vehicle and malicious destruction of personal property $1,000 or more but less than $20,000, malicious destruction of police property, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, first degree home invasion, unlawful driving away of an automobile, illegal entry, trespass, driving while license suspended and operating a motor vehicle without security.

The most serious charges, assault with intent to murder, are felonies that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.  The charges relate to incidents that occurred on May 16.  Cook is being held in Charlevoix County Jail on $1,000,000 bond.

Attorneys for Cook filed a notice of intent to raise an insanity
defense and the case is currently on hold pending an evaluation by the Center for Forensic Psychiatry on whether Cook is competent to stand trial.

“It is important to note that we have a very high standard for judging someone not criminally responsible for their actions in Michigan,” Telgenhof explained. “It is not enough to be mentally ill, a defendant must also prove that as a result of this illness, they failed either to appreciate the wrongness of their actions or as a result of the illness, they could not conform their conduct to the requirements of the law.”

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed in the matter, on May 16 at 5:05 p.m., it was reported to 9-1-1 dispatch that it was believed that James Franklin Cook had stolen a truck from Boyne Irrigation and had driven it to a home on M-75 where he left it and stole another vehicle, a 2000 Ford Focus station wagon.

The Boyne Irrigation truck had been spray painted in an attempt to cover the business’s identification, according to authorities.

At 5:58 p.m., a caller reported to police that they had seen the stolen Focus driving down Addis Road in Boyne Valley Township.

Deputy William Church responded to the call and was driving down Addis Road when he saw a maroon vehicle across from Drury Lane and a man, later identified as Cook, pulling the gate closed where Addis Road ends and becomes a “two track” seasonal road.

Cook saw Church approaching in his marked police vehicle then ran to the maroon car and hid behind it. Church was unable to see Cook at that time and ordered Cook to come out. Cook refused.

Since Cook was a suspect in two felony vehicle thefts, had run away from Church to his vehicle for cover, was not visible to Church and was not complying with Church’s command, Church pulled his weapon and ordered Cook to the ground. Cook did not comply.

Church identified himself and turned on the lights in his patrol car to be certain that Cook knew he was a police officer.

Boyne City Assistant Chief of Police Kevin Spate then arrived at the scene and took a position to Church’s right and saw Cook’s left on a berm. Spate observed a long, black object in Cook’s hands which he was holding and, appeared to be, a rifle.

Spate drew a weapon and as other officers arrived on the scene, they were informed that Cook had a weapon and the other officers drew their weapons as well.

Cook and Spate could see each other and Spate moved to different locations on the berm for his safety. Cook asked who Spate was and Spate identified himself.

Cook told both Spate and Church that he did not have a weapon but was only videotaping what was happening.

Michigan State Police Trooper Zachary Helton, Charlevoix County Sheriff Department Corporal Fred Hasty and Sgt. George Robert Lasater also arrived on the scene and took positions to the left of Church and Spate.

Hasty was closest to Cook, about 30 to 40 yards away, Hasty estimated. Hasty looked away from Cook for a moment to see how the other officers on the scene were positioned and when he returned his gaze to Cook, he saw Cook now standing, pointing a handgun at him.

Cook fired at Hasty and struck him in his hip. This was observed by Hasty and Helton. Hasty returned fire, but his leg gave out causing him to fall backward and lose sight of Cook.

Undersheriff Chuck Vondra arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and he and Lasater tended to the injured Hasty. While they were moving Hasty into Vondra’s vehicle, more shots were fired.

Church could see that at the time of the second round of shots, Cook was looking toward he and Spate. Church, Spate and Helton then returned fire. Helton observed that Cook was shooting in the direction of Church and Spate using a pistol.

Soon thereafter, Cook told officers that he had been shot and needed help. The officers ordered him to come out but he said he couldn’t comply because he was hurt and shot.

Deputy Travis Williams approached Cook, while being covered by Lasater, and arrested Cook.

Telgenhof notified officials with the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Department, Michigan State Police and Boyne City Police Department that he had cleared all officers involved of any wrongdoing in a four-page letter dated June 22.

Authorities said as officers attempted to approach Cook, he refused to comply with their directions, and ultimately shot Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Fred Hasty. Police said Hasty and other officers at the scene returned fire, striking Cook.

Hasty remains on medical leave as he recovers from his injuries. Cook also survived his wounds.
In his letter, Telgenhof said the officers who fired their weapons, Hasty, deputy William Church, Boyne City Police Department Assistant Chief Kevin Spate and Michigan State Police Trooper Zachary Helton, “acted appropriately and in fact, using less force that would have been justified under the circumstances.”

Telgenhof added, “Your officers should be commended for their response, their judgment and for their bravery. They were truly examples of how law enforcement officials should behave under extremely difficult circumstances.”

From left to right, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Greg Justis, Prosecuting Attorney Allen Telgenhof, Officer Barb Orban, Jen Rashleigh-Houser of WRCNM, Victim Advocate Libby Mikulski and City of Charlevoix Police Chief Gerard Doan

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and earlier this month, the Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan (WRCNM) presented their 2015 Excellence in Service Award for Charlevoix County to Officer Barb Orban of the City of Charlevoix Police Department.

The award recognizes law enforcement officers in each of the counties served by the WRCNM who promote domestic violence victim safety and offender accountability.
“I want to say thanks for the recognition, but the ones that really deserve the recognition are the ones that step forward,” Orban said referencing the courage of survivors.

City of Charlevoix Police Chief, Gerard Doan said he appreciates the recognition of Orban and her work. “Officer Orban is an outstanding officer who has made a great impression on so many people’s lives because of her hard working attitude toward protecting victims of domestic violence,” said Doan. He said Orban is always eager to get involved and ensures the job is completed in the most professional manner.

Charlevoix County Assistant Prosecutor, Greg Justis, also had praise for Orban’s work. “It’s hard to overstate the importance – or the difficulty – of law enforcement’s role in domestic violence cases. They need to navigate difficult situations, set the stage for prosecutions and ensure that survivors’ voices are heard. Officer Orban understands this role; she is versed in the dynamics of domestic violence, sensitive to the needs of survivors and a bridge between her department and the Prosecutor’s Office.”

Crime Victim Rights Advocate, Libby Mikulski, who works at the Charlevoix County prosecutor’s office said Orban goes the extra mile in handling domestic abuse cases. She said Orban addresses concerns of the victim, takes time to explain procedure and thoroughly communicates with both the victim and prosecutor’s office. “Officer Orban puts great effort into her investigation,” Mikulski said. “She is diligent about arresting the suspect at the time of the reported incident to further ensure the safety of the victim.”

“Over the last year there have been a few stand-out cases that Officer Orban has worked on,” said Jen Rashleigh-Houser, a WRCNM counselor/advocate who works closely with Charlevoix County law enforcement. “The diligence with which Officer Orban handles domestic violence cases supports survivor safety. Barb’s demeanor helps survivors feel validated. The professional and thorough way she investigates these crimes is exemplary.”

Undersheriff Chuck Vondra received the award for Charlevoix County in 2014.

In August, the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners took action to support the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the fight against domestic violence.  Commissioners unanimously extended the contract of Greg Justis, Charlevoix County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, previously hired on an interim basis to handle domestic violence cases in the county.
I was recently appointed to serve on the Drug Initiatives Committee for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM).  This committee looks for ways to improve prosecution of drug cases across the state and works to advocate for changes in the law that are positive with respect to keeping dangerous drugs off the street.

Statistically most of the cases we prosecute involve defendants who have underlying drug, alcohol or mental health problems.  Despite some public perception to the contrary, drug crimes are not “victimless” as they affect the individual, their families and lead to other crimes such as robberies.

We’ve had a number of illustrative cases here, such as the E-Z Mart robberies and the string of home invasions in the city of Charlevoix in 2013.

I recently wrote an article on states’ passing laws legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.  It will be published in the near future and can be read at

The short version is that studies show that marijuana has a negative impact on brain development in adolescents and teens who use marijuana are at greater risk of addiction than adults and are more susceptible to a gateway effect.  It is easier for teens to get marijuana in states that have legal pot, such as Colorado.

In July, I attended From the Source to the Street: Combating Upper Tier Drug Trafficking, a two-day training in Lansing together with over 100 other members of the law enforcement community.  We learned from presenters from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and the Michigan State Police.

As I wrote in the last newsletter, I have been a part of the statewide Cold Case Homicide Committee, which has organized an expert panel of police officers and prosecutors that can be consulted by local prosecutors to assist with their unsolved murders.  That group, together with the committee, is working to develop a state-wide protocol to utilize in such cases.

At the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan annual conference, Katrina Martin and I heard speakers from St. Louis, Missouri and New York City on lessons learned from the Ferguson case as well as best practices for utilization by prosecutors all across the country.  Katrina attended the business meeting on behalf of our office.

Mark Muniak, Katrina and I provided a legal update to police officers in morning and evening sessions on October 12 in the Sheriff’s Department training room.  We discussed recent and proposed changes to the law, recent court decisions and county law enforcement policies.  Kyle Smith of the Boyne City Police Department also spoke about locating missing persons, especially the elderly, as it is an area of expertise for him.

I had the opportunity to speak to Leadership Charlevoix County for the second straight year, explaining what our office does and answering a variety of questions.  You can learn more about this great group at

Recently President Obama spoke to the NAACP about what he and others have taken to calling our “broken” criminal justice system. It’s a popular notion, championed by presidential candidates on both sides as well as such diverse folks as the Americans for Tax Reform and the Koch brothers on the right and the ACLU, the NAACP and the Center for American Progress on the left.

A bill for “presumptive parole” that would provide for the early release of thousands of prisoners in Michigan has passed the State House and is pending in the Senate.

Aside from the cost savings, the problem with this is, as with much proposed legislation, that it is a solution in search of a problem.  Though it is expensive to house prisoners ($35,149 per inmate per year in Michigan), the facts are that in Michigan, we have the right people in prison.

If this is truly the case, early release is not the answer.  Before we can argue about the solution, we need to have the facts in order to make a well-informed decision.  Following are some myths that have appeared repeatedly in speeches, articles and editorials, followed by the facts according to Michigan Prisoners, Violent Crime and Public Safety: A Prosecutor’s Report, a compilation published by the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

Myth #1 – The “War on Drugs” is out of control, resulting in the overcrowding of our prisons

Fact – in Michigan, only 8% of prison inmates are in for drug offenses.  The national average is 17%.  Of Michigan’s 43,704 inmates in 2013, only 11 were there because of possession of marijuana.

Myth #2 – Judges usually send convicted felons to prison

Fact – Only 10% of those who commit felonies are initially sentenced to prison.  Adding in probation and parole violations increases the number to 21.6% of convicted felons who end up in prison.  The national average is 40%.

Myth #3 – Early release of inmates does not hurt anyone

Fact – The vast majority (over 70%) of Michigan’s prisoners committed violent or assaultive crimes.  The early release of these individuals could seriously negatively impact public safety in Michigan.

Myth #4 – Michigan has too many law enforcement officers

Fact – While Michigan has the highest violent crime rate in the Midwest, including four cities that have previously been named in the top 10 most violent in the country (Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, Detroit), we also have the lowest percentage of law enforcement personnel to residents.

Myth #5 – Mandatory minimum sentences lead to unfairly lengthy sentences

Fact – In Michigan, we have very few mandatory minimum sentences, all for very serious crimes.

First degree murder – mandatory life sentence
Conviction of a serious felony, while having three prior felony convictions, including a violent offense – mandatory 25 year minimum
Criminal sexual conduct penetration with a child under 13 – mandatory 25 year minimum
Criminal sexual conduct (after a prior CSC conviction) – mandatory 5 year minimum
Commission of a felony with a firearm – mandatory 2 years in prison

Myth #6 – Convicted felons are less likely to re-offend if given probation rather than prison

Fact – From 2008 to 2011, the re-arrest rates for parolees (following prison sentences) declined by 20% while the re-arrest rates for probationers remained unchanged.  Approximately half of the inmates in Michigan prisons were sentenced there for violation their probation or parole.  Part of the reason for this may be that the ratio of parolees to residents supervised was 10% lower than the national average while the ratio of probationers to residents supervised was 56% higher than the national average.

There is no question that corrections occupies a large piece of our state budget.  For Fiscal Year 2014, the $2 billion spent on corrects was less than 4% of the state’s overall budget but approximately 20% of the state’s general fund budget.

The increase in costs of caring for prisoners has largely been driven by health care costs for inmates.  In 2011, Michigan spent $7,485 per inmate on health care, the most in the Midwest.  Since that time, however, the cost has dropped to approximately $6,450 in 2014, saving approximately $45 million per year.

The bottom line is that it appears that in Michigan, prisons are used to separate our violent and repeat criminals for the protection of society, the purpose for which they are intended.  Early release would be harmful.

If you are interested in having one of our prosecutors or our victim advocate speak to your group or organization about our office or criminal justice issues, we are happy to do so.  Just call us at 547-7207 or e-mail me and we will make ourselves available for you.
It is my duty and my honor as prosecuting attorney to represent all of the citizens of Charlevoix County.  This office belongs to you – I am just a steward.  If you ever have any questions about the PA’s office or any case, please contact me.