The Manistee County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) is mourning the loss of one of their former sheriffs, Ed Haik, who passed away on Tuesday, January 11th at the age of 73.  Sheriff Haik retired in the year 2000 from his job as sheriff, but continued his public service as Manistee County Commissioner.  Ed Haik likely didn't make a lot of mistakes in his honorable career, but one mistake of judgment sticks out because it was litigated extensively in federal courts.

In Beck v Haik, Sheriff Haik was alleged to have prevented rescue diving operations in 1995 due to a "turf battle" with a local dive team.  Members of that team were present and capable of conducting rescue operations; however, the standing policy of Sheriff Haik threatened arrest of anybody other than his men who entered the water at such scenes, and he reportedly did not waver on that policy the night of the drowning.  The county and city would eventually settle the lawsuit for a million dollars while Haik was serving as commissioner.  

Ed Haik's illustrious legacy should be as a county commissioner and sheriff, not to mention a distinguished Marine veteran who served in Vietnam but to many he will be mostly remembered for having a policy backed by irrational hubris that led to what might have been a preventable death. 

Another member of the MCSO nearing retirement, an Army veteran, is similarly finding himself being sued in federal court for some egregious errors in judgment in what should have been a routine citizen contact.  On August 8, 2017, a man named Shaun Carpenter was protesting against the government peacefully on the sidewalk in front of the Vogue Theatre in Manistee.  A person from the theatre asked him whether he could move his activities elsewhere, at which point Carpenter reportedly moved across the street.  Even so, someone with the theatre called 9-1-1 and they dispatched Manistee County Deputy Blake Fitch (pictured below) to the scene to investigate.

Deputy Fitch made a lot of mistakes this day, and they were all chronicled by what should have been his loyal and trusty partner:  his body cam.  Good deputies accused of bad deeds are exonerated every day by these unbiased devices that record interactions between deputies and the public.  But on this sunny summer day five years ago, the camera captured a series of unfortunate events that makes the county and Blake Fitch potentially liable for a big payout.  Long-time Deputy Fitch illustrated that he had little knowledge of the law and of basic civil rights when he arrested Carpenter, fractured his leg, and sat for several minutes on the unresisting man after backup arrived.   

The first acknowledgment of this incident in the county's media did not happen until October 2021, three years after the case was filed, in a muted article that had the sheriff hired since highlighting how swell the MCSO was operating.  The new sheriff had his website inundated earlier this month by a lot of people responding to a video made by a popular 'police-accountability' site called  Lackluster.  The video recaps what happened that day, showing the majority of the body cam footage with a narrator that describes the sequence of events and how Deputy Fitch screwed up big time.  Take a few minutes to watch this:

One may watch this video or the full body cam footage and have a different perspective; they may wonder why Shaun Carpenter refused to cooperate with the deputy and show a proof of identity.  These are the types of people who have no clue as to how the people of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia suffered much worse than Shaun Carpenter because of their willful compliance with the state's directives which failed to recognize basic rights held dear by most of us. 

A week after the case was filed in November 2018, Mlive told the public the basics of the lawsuit and what was claimed in it.  The Lackluster summary video stops the tape pretty much after Deputy Fitch started the arrest, the fuller video provided by Mlive shows Carpenter being choked and taken to the ground, coincidentally at the point where he was allegedly kicked in the knee by the deputy, which led to a fractured tibia.

Ironically, the day that Sheriff Haik passed away, former Deputy Blake Fitch and the County of Manistee had a settlement conference with Mr. Carpenter, details of which is unknown at this point.  A March 2022 trial has been scheduled if the two parties cannot settle. 

Sheriff Haik's replacement, Sheriff O'Hagan, announced in January 2019, two months after the lawsuit was filed, that Deputy Blake Fitch was no longer working for the department, but withheld any reason why that was the case.  According to a 2012 article, featuring an interview with Bailiff Fitch, he was expecting to retire from the MCSO sometime around 2021; yet he has been working with a security firm for Crystal Mountain.  It looks as if the MCSO quietly retired a liability a couple of years early.

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I have no doubts that Deputy Fitch has done this type of citizen assault  on many other occasions. We only heard about this situation because of the body cam recording and the fact that the person he assaulted had the guts to press charges. Officer Fitch should have been prosecuted. He was the real criminal entity on that day. So, a good question to ask is how does the public stop criminal activity perpetrated by law enforcement at the time it is taking place? Call 911-1 for an officer to show up and arrest the police?  This was no error in judgement on Fitch's part and he was not defending the public against a potential threat. This was a disgraceful display by a power hungry, controlling and legally ignorant police officer. Fitch and all the others in charge of our society who have the same mindset are the reason there is so much distrust for authority.

Well said, Willy. And the law enforcement officers who help cover up and back up bad behavior add to the growing general distrust of rogue authority. The good cops need to clean up the bad apples because it takes a lot longer to fix a George-Floyd public-relations-like mess than it does to prosecute the rotten apples and throw them out of the bushel so the rest of the good fruit don't rot. It appears that Blake Fitch and Derek Chauvin hung as bad fruit from the same tree.

When situations like this are caught on camera, police chiefs or sheriffs are usually quick to duck questions or otherwise refuse to acknowledge the culpability of their officer.   They may even call the actions acceptable.  That's unfortunate, because they can and should be able to address their officer's misconduct without condemning themselves, the department, and the city/county in their appraisal.  They may actually find themselves with less liability if they truthfully denote that the conduct observed was not appropriate, lawful, or in any way condoned by the agency, and that it was strictly an error made by an officer who did not follow the agency's directives or training.

Some might say this would lower the morale of other officers and lead to resignations and staff shortages due to officers not wanting to join an agency whose superiors do not support their officers.  To the contrary, this would not only offer positive PR for the agency, but make other officers realize that they should follow the duties of their office.  It may actually attract good officers currently working with corrupted agencies. 

When Deputy Fitch did his actions, then-Sheriff O'Hagan, aware of the video's contents, decided to play not to the public, but to his deputies by not throwing Fitch under the proverbial bus.  I will be interested in getting a statement from the current sheriff once this lawsuit is settled or tried.  

> a good question to ask is how does the public stop criminal activity perpetrated by law enforcement at the time it is taking place? 
A good start is not agreeing to settle, presumably with admitting no wrongdoing.

The smaller problem is that even if a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit does not decide to settle and goes through the full process and gets a victory, the results occur about 5 years from the LEO crime caught on tape when it occurred and it's still just a civil tort.

The bigger problem is that county prosecutors will reflexively defend their peers in the county sheriff's office and find any way not to prosecute them criminally when they do bad things.  If they ever do prosecute them, they pay a definite political price.  The solution is to have special prosecutors and their investigatory agents from outside the county that have minimal conflict of interests investigate credible criminal allegations.   The biggest problem is that the Attorney General's Office should already be doing this in the cause of justice, rather than the political stunts they pull when they're ran by either party.

 I ran across some video's from a sheriff named Grady Judd from Polk county Florida. If we had law informant officers like him everyone except the criminals would be proud to say that the police are on our side. Too bad that there is the protect the blue mentality . He doesn't put up with that coverup BS. He just throws his deputies in jail for cover ups and violating the law.  My hats off to this law man.

If I was looking for a deputy job and I had a choice as to whether I would get the job with your Sheriff Judd, who holds his deputies accountable, and someone like Manistee's Sheriff O'Hagan, who failed to address bad behavior by his deputies, I would choose the former, as I hope other diligent deputies would.  One would have to think that would-be-deputies gravitate towards sheriff offices that align with their own general character, so ones that do not want to be held accountable will join an office where that is the standard protocol.  This explains the differences you see between law enforcement agencies and why you won't change bad agencies without rooting out the head of the beast and replacing it with a responsible sheriff/chief.

Update:  This case has been settled according to an order by the judge signed yesterday.  Details of that settlement have yet to be disclosed voluntarily by the Manistee sheriff or the county.

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