The arrest last week of Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III has left leaders in the African American community confused and angry.
“I thought how he was portrayed in the LSJ and how gloating the state attorney general and sheriff were seems overboard,” said the Rev. Melvin Jones, pastor of Union Missionary Baptist Church. He referred to the coverage as “convicted in the media,” and “forgive this, a public lynching.”
Dunnings, 63, was charged with 14 misdemeanors and one felony last week after a months-long investigation into allegations of his involvement in prostitution. He faces 10 charges for engaging the services of prostitutes, four charges for willful neglect of duty and one felony charge of pandering.
The shock and anger at the Dunnings arrest is part confusion and part betrayal. He is a leading figure in the black community and the most senior of elected black officials in the county. Derrick Quinney, who was appointed to the post of Ingham County register of deeds last year, and Circuit Judge Clinton Canady III are the only other black countywide officials holding elective office.
Civic and religious leaders throughout the city stressed that they wanted to see the legal process play out before they would judge.
“These are allegations, mind you,” Jones said. “He has entered a plea of not guilty.”
Lansing City Council President Judi Brown Clarke said she was “saddened” and “shocked” by the charges against Dunnings.
“This is so incredibly out of character,” she said. “I don’t know where the breakdown occurred.”
She said the allegations were “counterintuitive” to Dunnings’ platform of “taking a strong stand against prostitution.”
While Jones and Clarke spoke freely about the impact of the charges against Dunnings, many others declined to comment for a variety of reasons, including feeling uncomfortable with speaking ill of a leader in the community.
Community members did express unease with Dunnings over his tough-on-crime prosecution stance, as well as his support for police officers involved in shootings.
The announcement of the charges and the arrest of Dunnings, a Democrat, were made during a joint press conference by Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth, a Democrat, and state Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, leading some to conclude, wrongly, that Schuette led the investigation. That misunderstanding led some in the community to level allegations of political prosecution at the case.
But Wriggelsworth called that “just pure hogwash” during an interview in his office in Mason.
“Well, clearly we didn’t have a prosecutor to go to,” he said. “I couldn’t go to any of his assistants because they would have an obligation to report it to the boss. So we were pretty much bound to go to the AG’s office. It was a case that clearly needed to be prosecuted in our opinion and they agreed — so here we are.”
Wriggelsworth said the investigation began about July when federal authorities provided information from an investigation into human trafficking against Tyrone Smith. “We received information from women who were victimized — in my opinion,” he said. “We have an obligation to investigate that. We did it. We presented it to the proper authorities. They issued warrants. We’re more than willing to take this to trial and prove our case.”
Wriggelsworth said he had worked closely with Dunnings, the top law enforcement officer in the county. He said Dunnings regularly attended his weekly sheriff leadership meetings. The two attended an event on the Thursday before Dunnings’ arrest in Eaton County.
“Quite frankly, it was surreal,” Wriggelsworth said. “I think he had to know I knew, but our relationship was pretty much like it had been in the past.”
Interviews with public figures and others suggest some confusion about the charges against Dunnings. Some have conflated allegations that he had sex with trafficked women with the allegations that Dunnings is alleged to have enticed a woman into prostitution.
Two of those women, according to an affidavit in the case, were victims of human trafficking. Those two women would routinely show up for sessions with Dunnings with bruises on their bodies — and that, law enforcement has said, means he had to have been aware the women were being forced to perform sexual services against their will.
Another woman has accused Dunnings of enticing her into prostitution after he met her in his office about a child custody dispute. That woman alleges the only time she engaged in commercial sex was with Dunnings. Three other women are alleged to have been paid for sexual services by Dunnings, but whether they were victims of human trafficking is unclear.
“I didn’t understand how you got from engaging the services of a prostitute to human trafficking,” said Brown Clarke after the affidavit information was shared with her. “That makes more sense.”
She and other leaders said they really did not know what to make of the charges, but they were watching carefully. “I want to see what evidence they have,” Brown Clarke said.
Even as the criminal cases against Dunnings work themselves through the justice system, Wriggelsworth said there is more investigation to be done. Last week, he said, investigators in his office as well as in the Attorney General’s Office received numerous tips related to the Dunnings’ involvement with sex for pay. He also said a prisoner at the jail came forward with information as well, but that’s a path he has been down before and it has not been fruitful, Wriggelsworth said.
He discounted suggestions that the investigation to date involved narcotics. City Pulse interviewed a prostitute who said Dunnings and his brother, attorney Steven Dunnings, also charged with engaging the services of a prostitute, smelled of cat urine, often a telltale marker for methamphetamine. “There’s no indication of that,” said Wriggelsworth.
Investigators are trying to determine how Dunnings was able to afford thousands of dollars in expenses for hundreds of sexual trysts. Investigators say he paid $140 to $200 for each encounter and allegedly met with one sex worker as many as three or four times a week. He is also alleged to have showered the workers with gifts, and in at least one situation paid for methadone treatment.
Dunnings makes $132,000 a year, the top salary of an elected county official.
March 24: Because of a reporting error, this story originally incorrectly reported how many black countywide officials holding elective office there are in Ingham County. It should have said there are two: Register of Deeds Derrick Quinney and Circuit Judge Clinton Canady III.
Dunnings' wife files for divorce
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III has a new court battle — his wife of 37 years is suing him for divorce in Ingham County Circuit Court.
Cynthia Dunnings, 59, filed the action on Friday, four days after state and county law enforcement authorities announced that her husband had been charged with 14 misdemeanors and one felony related to allegations of his involvement with prostitutes.
She is being represented by Lansing attorney Jeffrey Ray.
The two, who were married on Oct. 22, 1977, have three adult children. Her maiden name is Cynthia Duda.
The complaint, which has been as signed to Judge Janelle Lawless, uses boilerplate language seeking the divorce.
“There has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the object of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved,” the complaint reads.
She is seeking temporary spousal support as well as a restraining order preventing Dunnings from “transferring, wasting, or dissipating assets of the marital estate.”