The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Police Station and Tribal Courthouse are located next door to one another. Tribal courts can only prosecute members of their own tribe and if it is a misdemeanor. (Photo by Anne Russ)
By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Spencer Harrison paid his $600 bail, only to be thrown into Isabella County Jail. He sat there for about 20 minutes until the clerk, confused as to why he was there, called for officers to let him out of the cell.
The same clerk had called Harrison earlier that day with the news that he had a warrant out for his arrest. Spencer had been waiting for this call, but not for that reason.
Three months prior to his 20 minutes behind bars, Harrison was pulled over for speeding and after a quick turn of events, marijuana residue was found in a film canister in his car. He was given an ultimatum – rat out his supplier or be arrested. The Central Michigan University police officer gave him two weeks, and told Harrison he would receive a call about the incident.
It never came. Instead, he got a different one.
There are five police departments that have jurisdiction over the Mount Pleasant area which is home to 19,364 CMU students who fall victim to the police-saturated community. Unlike Harrison, many students are unaware of the overlapping jurisdictions, let alone the number of police departments that reside within the city limits.
The process the police forces have created works well for them, but for the residents who they are sworn to protect, it causes confusion and distrust.
Each police department is defined by their own jurisdiction as to where they patrol and where they take complaints.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department fields crime within city limits, CMUPD holds authority over campus boundaries, the Michigan State Police and Isabella County Sheriff’s Department holds authority over the entire county and the Tribal Police Department has jurisdiction over the six-and-a-half townships that are made up of the tribe’s land.
However, there is no agency in Isabella County that is large enough to handle any problem without having outside help.
Earlier in February there was a 36-car accident on US-127, which required Mioduszewski to call in for support.
The Michigan State Police Department has a post on the eastern side of Mount Pleasant. They hold jurisdiction over the entire state. (Photo by Christiana Kurtz)
“There’s no way that just my deputies could have handled that many cars,” Mioduszewski said. “So, we had Tribal Police out there, we had state troopers, my folks, Shepherd PD, I even had Clare City Police come down to help us.”
When Mioduszewski had first taken office nearly a decade ago, things weren’t always so easy with the butting jurisdictions.
The sheriff’s department didn’t have authority on tribal lands until they were given permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribal Police through a quick ceremony known as deputization.
“All of our tribal officers are cross-deputized as sheriff deputies, along with the deputies and the city officers are deputized as tribal officers as well,” said Sgt. Harry Ambs of the Tribal Police Department. “That’s kind of a necessity with the overlapping jurisdictions. We all kind of work together and help each other out.”
The process itself is simple, Mioduszewski says, which requires officers to receive the oath of office by the county clerk administer – which any sheriff’s deputy has to do – by swearing to uphold Michigan and federal laws.
Once that’s completed, Mioduszewski has to sign it himself showing he is also giving authorization to be deputized. The deputization only lasts for the term of the Isabella County sheriff, which must be renewed every four years.
This cuts down on some of the gray area that comes with multiple jurisdictions and a lack of communication on developing crimes.
“We usually use the closest car concept,” Mioduszewski said. “If there’s something, a life-threatening type problem, a bad accident, or if it’s a domestic violence – we don’t care what agency you’re from, we want to get a police officer there.”
The overlap between the different jurisdictions and the tribe has been one of the main focal points for both the city and the reservation.
There are five police departments who have jurisdictions in Mount Pleasant city limits. (Graphic by Tony Wittkowski)
The cross-deputization has helped for emergencies in Mount Pleasant, which is the largest city in the county.
“We all have a mutual aid agreement,” said MPPD Public Information Officer Jeff Thompson, “which means that if the sheriff’s department is unable to get to a high-priority call in a certain area, but we can or CMU can or the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe can, then we’ll take the initial response and then let the responding agency get there and deal with the situation.”
However, not all occasions that involve multiple police agencies include emergencies.
“There are occasions where the tribe has big events, or large events going on where they need some additional law enforcement assistance and any time they ask we provide officers for that,” said CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley. “They’ve had a couple of fairly significant incidents on tribal lands over the last few years and certainly we’ve participated in the investigation and assisting them in some of those major events.”
During CMU’s football games Yeagley said they invite all of the agencies to assist them because of the scale of the event. The tribe assigns anywhere from two to six officers to CMUPD who utilize their officers to help keep things in order and keep the peace during home football games.
Each county in the state is going to have a sheriff’s department along with multiple city, village and township departments, Thompson said. To him, Mount Pleasant isn’t that rare of an occurrence because more towns have reservations and colleges, as well.
While the gray area can seem larger on some days more than others, Thompson said any problems are welcomed for an increase in police presence.
“We all have a very professional, very friendly relationship which comes from understanding that we’re all doing the same job,” Thompson said. “These are officers who are going to be there to back us up and save our lives if we need it. And of course there are going to be conflicts between the administrative staffs, in regards to jurisdiction, budgeting issues, coverage. But overall that’s on a professional level.”
A need for reform
A peaceful agreement among the police departments was not always apparent in Mount Pleasant.
Though there are five different forces that now coincide with one another that at one time did not see eye-to-eye.
Both Mioduszewski and Yeagley have seen times when the balance between local and tribal police have stepped on “somebody else’s toes.”
“Cross-deputization is a great thing to have when there is an emergency,” Yeagley said. “But when a call comes in and an officer decides to respond outside of their jurisdiction when it is not life or death, it can cause a rift between departments.”
Mioduszewski has come across instances where the police departments have overstepped their boundaries. However, that is in large part because it is hard to pinpoint the nationality of residents.
Before there was even an agreement, the tribal reservation lacked any form of a police force.
Marcella Hadden, public relations manager for the tribe, grew up on the reservations in the 1970s and remembered a time when there was no active police force to help enforce and maintain security.
“I remember someone breaking into the house, breaking a window and they were trying to reach in and grab something,” Hadden said. “My dad didn’t want to make any waves because he had to live there.”
The lack of police force and crime eventually caused Hadden to leave the reservation along with others.
Over the years, the reservation developed and establishment a small tribal court and hired two officers – a police chief and deputy. Despite this, others felt there was still a feeling of division between the tribe and the local city officials including the city police.
Colleen Green, director of Native American Programs at CMU, grew up in Remus until she became a student at CMU. There, Green became president of the North American Student Indigenous Organization.
To her knowledge, the city and tribal police have not always been on the best of terms. However, the community has done their best to patch up relations among one another.
“Both communities haven’t seen eye-to-eye in the past. There is kind of a riff between tribal and city,” Green said. “In the last five years they have been trying to heal both communities from what has been done in the past.”
Through an establishment of a round table, which focused on educating the community, they were able to survey tribal members asking about their personal experience within the Mount Pleasant community.
Since then the developments have allowed for significant improvements within tribal and city communication between former mayors and tribal officials.
However, Green does feel that to further increase acceptance among each other and to improve working relations there must be an improvement in education, training and understanding of each culture as a whole.
A growing tribe
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the five police agencies that reside in the city is the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police Department.
The city of Mount Pleasant is divided in half between tribal land and city or state. North of High Street – where downtown Mount Pleasant lies – marks the beginning of tribal land.
According to Mioduszewski, the tribe that lives in Mount Pleasant is the largest of the state. In other areas, there tend to be smaller pockets that include Native Americans, whereas in Isabella, they’re a bit more prevalent throughout the entire city.
But their presence in the community hasn’t always been met with friendliness. Colleen Green has felt it firsthand.
“If I walk into a store with t-shirt and jeans (on), people assume I don’t have a job,” she said. “They don’t realize I have two masters and I’m working on a PhD. I let them go with it.”
The Mount Pleasant Police Department sits on the corner of High and Mission Streets. (Photo by Christiana Kurtz)
The racial gap is getting smaller every year, though, and the community is changing to become more accepting.
The tribal police system has been changing and evolving over the years, as well.
Hadden has lived in the area since the 1970s, and has seen the changes firsthand. The tribe started without any police at all, then gained a police chief, his deputy and a small tribal court. Today, the tribal police consists of 16 road officers, four sergeants, two detectives and a lieutenant who is also interim captain, according to Ambes of Tribal PD.
The expansion started happening in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Chief Ralph Somik and Officer Joe Quikom were the two tribal officers that were at the forefront of the changes. Their budget was small, and Yeagley saw it fitting to offer help, in exchange for theirs when needed.
The bond between Yeagley and Quikom is similar to the relationship both agencies have with each other. The forces help each other out, and working together benefits both sides.
Now that all police officers are cross-deputized, any officer can answer a call.
If the tribal police arrests a student who is non-native, which happens often to students traveling back from Midland or at the Soaring Eagle Casino, the student is transported to the county jail where they take over the case.
A permanent distrust
Weeks turned into months when Harrison nervously awaited a call from CMUPD, when he finally received one, it was from the Isabella County Sheriff’s Department saying they had a warrant out for his arrest.
Harrison, who was confused as to how his case had moved from the campus to the county’s hands, gathered up the $600 needed to pay his bond. He was fingerprinted, had his mug shot taken and lodged in the county jail.
“Nobody wanted to hear my story,” Harrison said. “They just wanted to hurry up the process and get to the next convict.”
Harrison’s story is just one example of the experiences students have living within the boundaries of five police agencies. Since the incident, Harrison has transferred to Wayne State University – for reasons related to his major and not the arrest. Near Wayne State’s campus, the police presence is more prevalent than at CMU’s, however, he feels much safer around them.
After 40 hours of community service and a class on narcotics, Harrison has faced a growing problem.
Although the police agencies work together on a regular basis, it’s mistakes and confusion like what happened to Harrison that can cause real damage. After this experience, he is now stricken with anxiety.
“Whenever I see police on the road, or when I get pulled over, the anxiety comes back and bites me in the ass all because of this situation.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 3, 2014. Words by Chelsea Hohn, Tony Wittkowski and Nick Modglin. Photos by Christiana Kurtz and Anne Russ)