Now-former LPD Sergeant Mike Fort is no stranger to being accused of inappropriate actions while on duty as a law enforcement officer. He attracted our attention first in 2012 when he arrested a young mother on Thanksgiving when he was a deputy and failed all protocols. He then repeated the same modus operandi a couple years later in assaulting and arresting a nurse, a backseat passenger who had did nothing wrong and was never arrested for anything in the first place. Memorable among his other quotes that night: "Your rights are no longer (part) of the situation: I am your rights. I tell you what to do right now, I tell you where to go right now."
After nearly dying in a blizzard later that year due to poor judgment and having to be saved by Liz Reimink, his days as a deputy were numbered, Fort-unately Ludington's police department was depleted and had an opening. He didn't get any more respectful towards basic civil rights than he was in 2015, as was shown in an October 2020 incident which led to a lawsuit the City would settle for $55,000. He reportedly took it into his own hands to find out whether a woman wetted herself. The LPD would unwisely promote him to sergeant before the settlement was agreed to.
And the day after the settlement was approved last year, Sergeant Fort was at the local hospital leading a man in his underwear suffering mental health issues out through the halls and out into the parking lot in early May into a waiting police vehicle, when the sweatpants he was wearing 15 minutes earlier and the hospital gown he was wearing five minutes earlier were available. The FOIA Coordinator would consider this an invasion of the man's privacy by covering up the forced walk of shame, but Fort thought nothing of it, nor the violent use of force committed by two officers on the man, never documented in the police report, but the 'assaulting an officer' was (this charge was never prosecuted).
LPD Sergeant Fort was a walking liability machine and it's likely that being a county deputy again won't cure it. But what was the final straw for the LPD, under the new management of Chief Christopher Jones? It very well could have been the recent machete incident where he once again showed that he does not have the empathy or common sense to be a peace officer.
Fort Machete: The Action
Western movie afficionados may recall the movie Fort Apache as a "John Wayne movie" with an adolescent Shirley Temple and young Henry Fonda also starring, but it's main claim to fame is that it was the first major motion picture to feature American Indians in a very favorable light and as noble in their actions.
On July 18th around 11:30 PM, LPD Officer Noah Noble is riding with Sergeant Fort when they receive a call from dispatch/911. Another responding LPD officer, Luke Postma, would note that this was a disturbance call where there had been a man with a machete in the vicinity of the Ludington Library. Sergeant Fort's supplement in the police report stated this man was "swinging a machete around". In an interview with the 911 caller and in review of the 911 call, it does not reflect there was any swinging or wielding of a machete taking place. The action starts taking place after about one minute into Officer Noble's body cam footage:
Fort: (coming into view of the suspect, Fort recognizes him) "Thought you were going to Florida, Scott." (seconds after, all officers exit vehicle and slowly approach Scott
Postma: "Put your hands up in the air for me and walk this way, this way this way. Alright, what's going on."
Fort: "Where's the machete at, Scott." (echoed by Postma, who is grabbing MacArthur's arm)
MacArthur: "Right over in that backpack there, I was told I could carry it. I was... (cross talk)
Fort: "No, no, no." (rushes in and grabs MacArthur's arms)
MacArthur: "I'm not resisting arrest." (he wasn't even though he was being assaulted)
Fort: "You are now. Get on the ground, get on the ground, get on the ground (the ground is pavement, he's wrestled to the ground). Put your hands behind your back. You don't pull away when he tells you (there was never any telling heard on any bodycam). You're running around with a damn machete, you don't tell anybody what to do,"
MacArthur: (muffled, calm) "I'm not I put this on every day. The sheriff told me I had to leave my home today. What are you talking about, Bro."
Fort: "You don't pull away when my officer goes to put you under arrest, put you in detainment."
MacArthur: "I'm not trying to resist. Why would I resist? "
Fort: "You did."
MacArthur: No, I didn't. You guys are being mean. You can't legally grab me, Bro.
Fort: "Yes we can." (Fort walks to backpack, sheathed knife is visible on the outside, it falls as he carries it back)
MacArthur: (being cuffed without resistance) "I did not resist or pull away from cops, I would never do that.
Postma: "What you got on you? You want me to to do a drug test for you right here?"
Some inconsequential talk ensues as he is placed in the back of Postma's patrol car. They search his backpack without noting any probable cause or getting consent (except from Deputy Claveau who arrives with an MSP trooper).
Postma: (to MSP trooper) "He's talking over there with the victim he was swinging the machete at."
Just after this exchange, and before Fort comes back with a statement from the caller, Postma drives MacArthur over to the jail. On the way he talks with Fort (who has finished his interviews): Fort: "Going to lodge him on R&O?" (Yeah) "Just lodge him on R&O right now."
Postma: (at jail): "He's getting lodged on R&O.
Fort had went over to talk to the person that called it in, and that's on his body cam footage.
Fort: "Hey guys, what's going on?"
Caller: "I was just walking home, stopped at the marina, I called my mom and she said she'd be working late but she'd pick me up. So he stops me on the avenue and I was with my buddy, you saw us at the marina, and we're walking past Sandcastles, he walks past us, and I was like, oh, okay, nothing serious. And then he turns around and says: "Hey guys, come here really quick."
And I say, OK, and I was wondering, and he turned around and he was like: "I was told to find someone with a backpack, a boombox and two phones." I had two phones, a backpack and whatever. And he goes: "Did you know that these electronics and all these magnitude, the miscommunication..." I assuming he's under the influence of something, I don't know, so then I saw the machete and he goes like this, he had his hands here, and he goes up, like this (image is blacked out in footage) and we took off running. We ran here, we got ahold of my mom, and then we're sitting here waiting for her and (his friend) goes is that the guy, my other buddy had to go home, so when he comes back around and looks at us and starts walking towards us, we turned around and sprinted over here, and he turns around and goes-- and just stands there. And I was like, should we call? Yeah, we should probably call, so we called and he's over there laying on his back on his backpack, is that how you guys saw him? (sure) and that's the last..."
Fort: "Did he pull the machete out on you at all?"
Caller: "As far, I didn't see it personally, but he went like this, he was clearly reaching for it, because it was just hanging out like there, and he went like this, and that's when we ran, because he was just sitting there talking with us. So I just took off. (His friend related basically the same story, noting that Scott had never actually reached at the sheathed machete or threatened them).
Shortly after this interview and after Scott is taken to the jail by Officer Postma (see his footage here), Officer Noble walks over to Fort, whose camera is turned off at this point.
Fort: "What'd he say, he say anything?" (Noble says MacArthur gave them permission to search him) I know we can, you're under arrest." (mike goes off).
Fort Machete: The Dysfunction
Sergeant Fort had a very poor understanding of police protocols along with very poor communication skills in this incident as the commanding officer who was in charge of two officers with very little experience, two that may adapt Fort's errors into their regular procedures. Here's some of what went wrong here.
Scott MacArthur had some serious but non-violent convictions against him back in 2015-16, and is a registered sex offender because of that, but since then he seems to have kept his nose clean, at least as far as going before the local courts. In the footage, he seems compliant and cooperative at all times, and even when Postma grabs his arms, he doesn't appear to resist at all, he's more surprised by the move and Fort's efforts that wrestled him to the pavement without apparent resistance or obstinance by Scott or without any indication of why he is being treated that way since he told them right off where the machete was.
One can hear for themselves that no officer told the cooperative man that he was being arrested, detained or even just being searched when they commit violence against him and told him he was resisting arrest, even though he had not been arrested, or even formally detained.
Had they detained Scott as part of their investigation into whether he was out of compliance with the law, we wouldn't now be talking about whether this was a lawful arrest, whether resisting occurred, or whether this was blatant and unnecessary police brutality. But it's clearly the case of an unlawful arrest, excessive use of force, and violation of Scott's basic civil rights.
One can see from the picture that the machete lies pendant at the top of his backpack. An attorney familiar with Michigan law would tell you that this is not an illegal way to carry a potentially dangerous weapon in Michigan. You can openly carry all legal knives in the state of Michigan as long as you do not intend to harm others, even RSOs. It is illegal to conceal carry stabbing knives, a double-edged/non-folding stabbing instrument (any length), or any other dangerous weapon on or about a person-- so had it been in the backpack, Scott would be afoul of the law unless he could prove it was strictly a hunting knife.
Both callers' description of the knife has it being sheathed and in the open at all times, there were no threats, real or implied, of Scott using the knife; there were definitely concerns about the mental acuity of the carrier and inherent dangers to himself and the public, so the call was not frivolous or unfounded.
But the response was terrible, and the lack of any use of force reports when the three officers attacked an unarmed and unresisting man is troubling. Instead of de-escalating the situation, they hyper-escalated it, and created a major liability for the City. They exacerbate this problem by illegally searching, incarcerating and prosecuting the victim of their violence under false charges.
First, they charged him with three counts of resisting and opposing arrest and carrying a concealed weapon, we can see from the videos that he did neither. After review by the prosecutor, she wisely dropped the resisting charges and the concealed weapon charges but added the felony of carrying with unlawful intent on the basis of what's in the police report:
Nothing in the report, nothing said by Scott MacArthur or the callers in any of the footage suggest he was going to use the machete with any unlawful intent; according to Scott, he was effectively homeless so he had no legitimate place to have his knife except on his person, and out in the open, where it was, and which presented the problem.
The weapon being wielded with unlawful intent in this incident is not that of Scott MacArthur, the weapon is our local justice system that seems intent to cut us all into criminals if given the chance. Let's be safe out there over this holiday weekend and beyond from those paid well to protect and defend us and our rights-- and feel just a little more secure (if you're a Ludington citizen) that Sergeant Fort is now the sheriff's problem. Some bad seeds remain, however.
Thanks for the well written and researched article. I have 2 major concerns about this story which are very worrisome to me and should be for everyone. The first is that there is a homeless sex offender wandering the streets of Ludington with a machete in his possession. The second is the hiring practice, training and lack of oversight by local police, both the Sheriff's office and the Ludington Police Dept. On one hand there are individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes and are just roaming around town who may be mentally challenged. It's anybody's guess what these people are capable of doing. Probably of greater importance is local law enforcement who seem to lack the needed discipline and training as well as attitude required to deal with the public they are hired to protect. Not only protect but to see that citizens rights are not abused which seems to be a common occurrence in Ludington. The people need to know they can move freely without worry of being accosted by either criminals or the police. Having MacArthur and Fort on the streets of Ludington does not give people the feeling of being in a safe environment where peoples rights are not abused by either side of the law. I have nothing personal against Fort but he is carrying around a not so positive reputation which seems to have been self inflicted.
One thing I didn't do, was to make sure the link to the police report was working; it wasn't so I fixed it. Once you take a look at it and the three police videos you notice something sad. You have recognized that there are two big problems here and they're very stark: 1) there was a homeless man with a criminal record and a machete roaming the streets of Ludington, and 2) there was an interaction between this man and the police that illustrated how poorly trained the LPD is, and suggests this could have been handled much better.
But the bigger problem I see here, tied in somewhat with the latter, is that there is almost no communication between the police and the arrested party throughout the whole process; it's very dehumanizing and if I was treated like Scott, or if say the President of WSCC was treated the same way for legally carrying a knife, there would be consequences against the LPD. If Scott MacArthur has some mental health issues, being arrested this way without any recognizable offense and without any compassion for his unfortunate disposition is not going to be good for their cure.
It's nice seeing the various police agencies talking amongst themselves, but that talk was almost exclusively on how to deprive this man of his freedom and his basic civil rights. It would have been a lot more comforting if they actually had concerns about how this man would survive and integrate back into society after putting him in jail, or how he could transport his property (knife) around without violating their interpretation of the laws.