Despite militia association, “Sheriff’s personal policies do not interfere with public duty,” says supporter
HASTINGS, MI – A protest against Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf may have been canceled for security reasons, but that did not stop residents from showing up to show their support or denounce the sheriff.
Individuals and crowds began to gather more than an hour before the Barry County Commissioners Council meeting on Tuesday morning to express their views on the sheriff and, space permitting, enter the meeting to express their opinions.
Leaf has been criticized for sharing the scene of a rally in Grand Rapids in May with militia members, including one who has since been arrested for the alleged governor’s kidnapping plot, and for controversial comments he made after the arrests last week.
With maximum capacity limits indoors due to social distancing protocols, some 40 people listened to speakers outside the community foundation center as the public commented on October 13.
More votes were out for the sheriff than against, as nearly a dozen people praised his constitutionality, loyalty and dedication to the community, with many doing so to applause.
Leaf supporter Joel Ibbotson said he knows many people who vehemently oppose Leaf’s personal policies, but publicly defend him as a sheriff.
“Simply put, his personal policies do not interfere with his public duty to the Constitution of the United States,” Ibbotson said. “He was elected constitutionalist by us the people and led the office in a way that served the people not to arrest him.”
Olivia Bennett, who organized the protest against Leaf, has called on commissioners to pass a resolution calling for Leaf’s resignation.
Bennett, who is transgender, spoke using his legal name, Cody Hayes.
“Unlike others in my riding, I think safety is of the utmost importance,” she said. “I think that really paints a picture of the situation in this county; a state of fear to speak out against powerful figures such as Dar Leaf, which ultimately leads to intimidation practices and potential violence.
Bennett pointed to comments made by the sheriff last week suggesting the men arrested for their roles in the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer – two he knows personally – were only trying to stop Whitmer, not kidnap her.
State and federal officials charged 13 men with various offenses related to the alleged coup against Whitmer, an elaborate ploy that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to kidnap the governor from his vacation home . Seven of the suspects face state-level charges, while the other six face federal charges.
“These people all intended to harm the governor, start a civil war and harm law enforcement and Mr. Leaf provided them with a defense,” Bennett said. “I believe that a sheriff who does not condemn attempted kidnappings of government officials has no place in law enforcement.”
Barry County District Attorney Julie Nakfoor Pratt, who was not present at the meeting, released a statement expressing concern over Leaf’s recent remarks regarding citizen arrests.
“Sheriff Leaf is not a lawyer and is not licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan, but he incorrectly cited unenforceable law intended to assist citizens and law enforcement whom he swore to protect, ”Nakfoor Pratt mentioned.
“As a prosecutor, I find this worrying. There is no logical, legal or ethical basis for statements that defend or condone behavior that threatens the safety of Governor Whitmer, his fellow law enforcement officials, or any other citizen of this country. “
Leaf, who, when questioned by Commissioner Ben Geiger, rejected the idea that he believed citizens should take justice into their own hands, said after the meeting that he would not resign.
Among those speaking on his behalf was Arnie Rodriguez, a resident of Yankee Springs, who said when Leaf spoke out against following Whitmer’s orders in May, it was not the sheriff who did not follow the law, but as the The Michigan State Supreme Court recently ruled, it was the governor.
At the Michigan Patriots’ May 18 rally at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, Leaf compared the governor’s stay-at-home orders to unlawful house arrest. At the rally he stood next to one of the men, Guillaume null, accused in the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer.
These and other actions proved the sheriff aligned himself with militia groups and extremist individuals who attended such gatherings, said Scott Savage of Hastings Township.
Savage, who said the sheriff allowed and encouraged militia members, accused Leaf of speaking out in other jurisdictions while in uniform to intentionally “lend increased legitimacy to the cause.”
“Very few militia members align themselves with the guys who were part of this plot,” replied Mike Marlow. “Most of the militia members are freedom-loving and American constitutionalists and patriots, and are the last line of defense in the event of a breakdown in civil order. And Dar Leaf, I respect him a lot.
Marlow was not the only Leafs fan who was upset by the idea that all militia groups “are too often lumped together”.
“I know some of these militiamen because they attend some of the events that I have spoken to and I have never had a problem with them,” said Mark Gurley, Kent County Curator. “But this group that was arrested didn’t really match what I saw of a well-regulated militia.
Gurley, who was behind a 2015 billboard in opposition to same-sex marriage which declared that “homosexuality is a behavior, not a civil right,” said he had organized large-scale conservative events in Grand Rapids between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS where he hired Leaf’s deputies to lead security.
He did it, he said, “because they knew what they were doing, were well trained and they understood the constitution and they understood what it meant to be American.”
Barry County residents Johnny DeMaagd and Christina Bush both said they feared Leaf’s recent rhetoric could lead domestic terrorists or militia members to seek refuge or take root in County of Barry.
“Tens of thousands of people live, work and play in Barry County and the safety of these people is paramount to the good functioning of our community,” said DeMaagd. “The sheriff has shown dangerous behavior specifically towards those militia members who have been accused of statewide terrorism.”
Hastings resident Jean Ann Wahl-Piotrowski did not speak at the meeting but arrived early, carrying a sign outside that read “Words matter, actions matter, facts matter.”
She said Leaf’s words dating back to May when he spoke at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids are words that embolden those around him.
“The company we keep says a lot about us,” Wahl-Piotrowski said. “Seeing the armed terrorists in the capital screaming at the police, everyone in the state saw it. To say that this kind of action is OK and to support people who continue to do this kind of action is totally inappropriate. “
Nancy Hammond, of Hastings, added that people must reserve judgment on those accused of the national terrorist plot until due process takes place.
She was angry, however, “because Sheriff Leaf refused to condemn the actions of the men, he is condemned. Because he refused to comment on the guilt of the men, he is attacked.
“Dar is a constitutional scholar, and many of us are and we support him and appreciate what he has done for this community,” she said. “He has integrity. He has loyalty. He is honest and he serves our community and he serves his church.
Leaf said after the meeting he would not speak directly to the criticisms he has faced in recent days.
“I’m not going to comment on the reviews, I’m going to take them,” he told MLive.
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