News Story

Former State Health Director Wanted ‘Credible Threat’ Of Police Lockdown Sanctions

‘People who see local violations ... can contact local police’

The East Lansing Police Department issued dozens of citations to residents who violated Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to documents recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. But just one individual was sent to jail.

An East Lansing ordinance that went into effect in January 2021 states, “Any person who violates a public health order issued by the State of Michigan (including by the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services); the Ingham County Health Department or its Health Officer; or the Clinton County Health Department or its Health Officer is responsible for a municipal civil infraction under this Ordinance.”

The measure adds, “Each violation of this Emergency Ordinance is a municipal civil infraction, punishable by a civil fine of $500 and/or any other relief available under the Revised Judicature Act of 1961, being 236 PA 1961.”

According to recently obtained records, East Lansing officers and officials issued 59 tickets to residents for COVID violations, including for participating in indoor and outdoor gatherings with more than 15 people. Most of the tickets were issued starting in the second half of October 2020. Although not wearing face masks was noted in numerous citations, it does not appear to have been the basis for any of them.

Reports from local law enforcement show most citations came after police were called to a residence for noise complaints.

In one of the 59 encounters, a belligerently uncooperative resident was arrested. In that instance, it was Jan. 1 and police responded to a noise complaint. The man was found to have a .21 blood alcohol level and was ticketed for obstructing police, a noise violation and violating the COVID health code order.

But this was not one of the several cases that were handed over to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office or the Ingham County Health Department.

The arrest records do not indicate why some arrestees were referred for further prosecution and others not.

The current East Lansing epidemic emergency ordinance that replaced a similar one adopted last October is still in effect, and there are no plans to rescind it, according to Nicole Mosteller, assistant to the city manager.

In October 2020, Robert Gordon, then the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, asked local police departments to more rigorously enforce emergency orders his department had issued to require social distancing and face mask usage.

Gordon wrote in a Oct. 17, 2020, email: "While some people will act because they believe it is important, for others, a credible threat of sanction is likely to be critical."

In another Oct. 19, 2020, email, Gordon said he wanted police to support a more aggressive enforcement of state COVID rules. Among other things, he wanted police to encourage residents to report violations by neighbors, and criminal sanctions for what he called egregious examples.

Gordon wrote: “The Governor has a press event scheduled on Wednesday, so we will plan around Thursday. As to what would be most useful, we would greatly value organizational statements of support along the lines Bob [Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police] describes below, that 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). Later today, Colonel Gasper [director of the Michigan State Police] and I will get you a document summarizing this proposed enforcement approach.”

The emails were published after being obtained by Judicial Watch in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.