LANSING, Mich. — Health officials in mid-Michigan are receiving an increasing number of threats over COVID-19 mask mandates in schools.
“Maybe we should go get muzzles and padlocks and force them on your children, maybe you need to be put in a gas chamber," said one woman addressing members of the Barry Eaton District Board of Health last week.
Parents across the state are separating into factions. On one side, those who want students to be able to ditch masks in schools citing personal liberty and, on the other, parents who support the mask mandates noting a responsibility to their neighbors.
Parents like Emily Mellits, who has two school-age children in Macomb County.
“MDHHS guidelines are very clear that if you have a universal mask mandate you can avoid some of these quarantines… A lot of these exposures that are happening in the classroom would not be happening if we had a mask mandate," Mellits said.
The friction is erupting at county health department meetings and health officers are at the center.
Thursday, a man named Adam Heikkila took to the podium at the Barry Eaton health board meeting and announced he was making a citizen's arrest on Health Officer Colette Scrimger.
“Colette Scrimger, I am placing you under arrest as a private citizen under a federal felony," Heikkila said.
Heikkila and his supporters then called on the officers in the room to arrest Scrimger.
“Officer Miller I’m handing over custody to you under Michigan Law," he said.
Scrimger was not arrested and was able to leave the meeting without getting into a physical altercation.
In Michigan, a law ratified in 1927 allows a person to use a citizen's arrest when a felony is being committed in their presence of if a store owner is trying to prevent shoplifting. Either way, however, Ingham County Sheriff's Office Field Services Captain Andy Daenzer says officers discourage its use.
“It's something we certainly discourage and would prefer that police are contacted if a threat needs to be made unless there's immediate physical danger. It's something that police should be dealing with," Daenzer said.
Threats and harassment against health officers are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Daenzer said. But there are a lot of cases.
In fact, Ingham County's health officer Linda Vail said earlier this month she's been dealing with threats and harassment too.
“I would say that across the board there isn’t a health officer in the state that isn’t dealing with this.. As far as what do we do? I put a security system in my house as did most of my colleagues. Some have had to do more than that," Vail said.
She explained that in situations where more safety measures are needed health officers enlist the help of prosecutors, local sheriff's departments and law enforcement.
“I know that the Ottawa County Health Officer had some security protection for a while," Vail said.
Daenzer said he encourages the community to attend public comment sessions with patience, even to look at issues from another person's point of view and simply be reasonable.
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