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Sheriff Who Defended Alleged Would-Be Gretchen Whitmer Kidnapper Handily Wins Re-election

A sheriff who defended one of the men accused of plotting and conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) was easily re-elected on Tuesday. Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, a Republican, ran unopposed for re-election. With all precincts reporting, he notched well over 25,000 votes while just shy of 1,500 voters chose to write in a candidate.

Maurice Chammah, a staff writer at the criminal justice reform-oriented media outlet The Marshall Project, chastised Democrats for their failure to recruit a candidate to run against Sheriff Leaf.

“Remember Dar Leaf, the Michigan sheriff who appeared onstage with militia members?” he tweeted. “He won on Tuesday, because he ran unopposed. If Biden wins, some of his most vocal opponents — on COVID policy especially — will be sheriffs.”

In early October, Leaf made national headlines when he gave an interview with Fox 17’s Aaron Parseghian during which he gave multiple excuses for the alleged kidnapping plot–even suggesting that the participants could have been attempting to make a valid “citizen’s arrest.”

“I did not see this coming from those guys,” Leaf said–referring to the fact that he knew some of the men. “But, still, we can’t convict them in the news media here. They do have the right to a fair trial.”

In fact, as Parseghian noted, the sheriff’s affiliation with the alleged would-be kidnappers went a bit further than that.

In May, Leaf appeared on stage with William Null, one of the men charged in the kidnapping conspiracy, at a rally to protest the stay-at-home order issued by Whitmer in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Leaf himself even spoke at the rally.

Quizzed on whether he regretted his affiliation with a man accused of trying to kidnap the state’s governor, Sheriff Leaf gave a widely-criticized response.

“Well, it’s just a charge,” Leaf said. “And they say a plot to kidnap. And you gotta remember that–are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor and they want her arrested. So, are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnapping attempt? Because you can still, in Michigan, if it’s a felony, you can make a felony arrest.”

The sheriff went on to cite what he believed to be the statute that authorizes citizens’ arrests in Michigan. He was, as it turns out, wrong on that front.

Response to the sheriff’s comments–which suggested an obvious affinity with the so-called “militia” members–was almost universally negative.

“Sheriff Leaf is not a lawyer, nor is he licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan, yet he inaccurately cited a law that is inapplicable and is meant to aid the very citizens and law enforcement he is sworn to protect,” Barry County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor Pratt said in statement. “As a prosecutor, I find this concerning. There is no logical, legal or ethical basis for statements that defend or condone behavior that threatens the safety of Governor Whitmer, fellow law enforcement, or any other citizen in this country.”

Even the Michigan Sheriff’s Association made the rare decision to criticize another member of law enforcement in response to Leaf’s bizarre attempt at lawyering.

“It is, frankly, disheartening that any law enforcement official with any time in service of his or her oath could respond that way,” the group’s executive director and CEO Matthew Saxton said in an open letter.

The Barry County Board of Commissioners even went so far as to address Leaf’s comments during a meeting. Inside and outside of those meeting doors, people protested in support and opposition. Many of the sheriff’s critics called for his ouster–a remedy not available in Michigan except via the ballot box–or resignation.

“I will not be resigning,” he said during that meeting, while also tempering his earlier rhetoric and saying that people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands.

On Election Day, his gamble paid off. Sheriff Leaf will be resuming his duties while pulling in an annual salary in excess of $85,000 for the next four years at least.

[image via Fox 17 screengrab]

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