Michigan officials asked police to help levy ‘threat’ for COVID violators, emails show
From The Detroit News:
Lansing — Members of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration encouraged local police agencies in October to more aggressively help the state enforce restrictions on mask-wearing and social distancing — invitations they declined — according to emails released through an open records request.
The messages show Robert Gordon, then-director of the state’s health department, pitched the leaders of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police on a plan to ask people who saw violations of COVID-19 orders to “contact local police or sheriffs as appropriate.” The organizations rejected the proposal, contending an educational effort would be more effective to gain compliance.
“With COVID-19 cases surging, there is great urgency to encourage masking and social distancing,” Gordon wrote in one email on Oct. 17. “These are the best tools available to slow the rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“While some people will act because they believe it is important, for others, a credible threat of sanction is likely to be critical.”
The emails were included in more than 1,200 pages of documents recently obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch, which is based in Washington, D.C. The messages reveal a tougher approach Whitmer’s administration was considering taking on enforcement last fall after the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the governor’s ability to issue unilateral executive orders and as a second COVID-19 spike began to take hold.
Col. Joseph Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, was involved in the discussions, including sending an email that introduced Gordon to Bob Stevenson, executive director of the police chiefs’ association, and Matthew Saxton, executive director of the sheriffs’ association.
Gordon forwarded some of the messages to Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief legal counsel, including a final note from Saxton, in which he declined to participate in the plan. The request by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was for the police chiefs’ association and sheriffs’ association to issue statements of support for helping to enforce COVID-19 epidemic orders and to appear at a press conference where the plan would be detailed.
In an Oct. 19 message, Gordon described the proposal as “people who see local violations regarding masks or social distancing can contact local police or sheriffs as appropriate, and they will handle them (with default pathway as report and referral as civil matter; criminal only for egregious).”
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