In late July, Tyrun Williams, 35, of Grand Ledge, was arrested in Lansing Township. He was stopped for speeding, but the investigation led to the seizure of about a dozen guns and about 200 grams of cocaine.
But rather than turn the case over to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, police sought and were granted federal charges against Williams.
Lansing Township Police Chief John Joseph told City Pulse on Monday that he’d much rather skip the procedural headache of dealing with Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s new policies on felony firearm charges by instead taking as many of those criminal cases involving guns as he can into federal court. Siemon announced the reform because she finds such charges are “overtly racist.”
“This isn’t really a workaround,” Joseph said. “Whenever you have a case that has the potential for federal charges, you can always submit them through any federal agency. It’s not new. In some cases, those agencies will even take over the investigation, which can be helpful for smaller departments. Federal attorneys also don’t have those same rules on firearm charges.”
And because the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took over the case, Siemon has no jurisdiction.
“These guns are being floated around, and this ensures that people are being held responsible for them,” Joseph explained to City Pulse last week. “It would’ve been an uphill battle with the county to get this guy charged with something that matches the significance of the incident.”
He added: “I think all we can do at this point is voice our displeasure with these policies and continue to do our jobs. I just don’t see how these changes are going to make anybody safer.”
Siemon said it’s “well within the discretion” of local cops to take cases elsewhere.
Joseph is one of two Lansing Township officials who have spoken out against the new policy. The other is Supervisor Dion’Trae Hayes.
As a Black woman, Hayes recognizes that the criminal justice system (both locally and across the country) has “not been kind” to Black and brown people, she told City Pulse last week. She also recognized a need for reforms — as well as the incongruous appearance of opposing a policy shift designed almost exclusively to curb discrimination against Black people.
But her decision to oppose then policy was ultimately an easy one, Hayes explained.
“I reached out to the Prosecutor’s Office twice. I still have not received a return phone call from her,” Hayes said this week. “That can make it difficult to support. It would’ve been nice to have a discussion about this as a community, because this is really a communitywide issue.”
Hayes was the last of 22 signatures from various mayors, township supervisors and village presidents on a petition from County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth last month, which pushes back against Siemon for rolling out a policy that prevents prosecutors from pursuing felony firearm charges against suspects — except only in “the most extreme circumstances.”
A conviction on that particular felony charge carries a minimum two- or four-year prison stint and can only be leveled as a companion charge to other (often much more consequential) criminal offenses like burglary or assault. Siemon labeled the gun charge “overtly racist” largely because about 80% of those serving a sentence for that crime in Ingham County are Black.
Wriggelsworth’s petition asks Siemon to “reconsider” the recent changes, largely because he thinks the reduction in criminal penalties could serve as a catalyst for continued gun violence — which has only continued to climb from a record-breaking 21 homicides in Lansing in 2020.
Only two people refused to sign the petition: East Lansing Mayor Jessy Gregg and Williamstown Township Supervisor Wanda Bloomquist. Hayes was the only Black person to sign the petition.
“I know the justice system has not been kind to Black and brown people. We are charged more frequently. We get treated more aggressively by the police. But on that same token, I know that people obtain illegal guns for illegal purposes,” Hayes explained.
“The prosecutor’s intent is honorable and I appreciate her looking at ways to combat structural racism, but I’m just not quite certain this is the right way to go about it,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be a scared little Black girl growing up in the inner city of Detroit with bad people using illegal guns for illegal purposes. The prosecutor will never know what that is like in that respect.”
Hayes added: “I just don’t know if this policy will help or hinder.”
Siemon told City Pulse last week that she had no records of missed calls from Hayes. Officials at Siemon’s office have since reached out to Hayes after learning of the issue from City Pulse.
“It’s possible, although I would be disappointed if my staff failed to pass on messages,” Siemon said. “I may not always respond promptly, but I would not ignore communications of this nature.”
Hayes added: “Maybe this policy will help in some regard, but we need to have a discussion. I just wish the people who wanted to be allies in the Black and brown communities would actually have a dialogue with those communities. It’s too easy to make decisions from the outside.”
The public clash between prosecutor and sheriff has stirred controversy since the policy shift was announced by Siemon’s office in August. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor has contended that the change only serves to give people a “free pass” to bring a gun to a crime. Mayoral challenger and City Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar has labeled Schor a hypocrite for denouncing the changes while simultaneously trying to mitigate racial discrimination in the city.
Schor said officers at the Lansing Police Department will continue to investigate crimes as usual, including sending up felony firearm charge requests for Siemon’s inevitable denial. Wriggelsworth has also said that his deputies have no plans to deviate from business as usual.
“I have said my piece. The prosecutor has said she will not apologize for what she is doing, and these policies are only the beginning,” Wriggelsworth told City Pulse last week. “I will not apologize for continuing to fight for victims of violent crime, and will do our jobs to try and hold suspects properly criminally accountable for victimizing our community armed with a firearm.”
Wriggelsworth scored more political donations than any other candidate in a countywide race last November with a campaign war chest of more than $98,000. Siemon, on the other hand, ran her campaign largely on a $50,000 personal loan that she took out in 2016, along with about $11,000 raised in the latest election cycle.
And it’ll probably be Siemon’s last.
“It is quite unlikely that I will run again since I hope to enjoy retirement someday,” said Siemon, who would be 68 if she were to run again in 2024.