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Michigan Sheriff Defends Man Suspected of Planning Whitmer Kidnapping Conspiracy During ‘Wild’ Interview

A sitting sheriff in Michigan defended one of the men recently charged in a plot to kidnap the Wolverine State’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Video of the shocking display went viral late Friday morning.

In the footage, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf can be seen standing on stage with William Null, one of the men charged in the kidnapping conspiracy, at a rally in May of this year protesting Whitmer’s stay-at-home order in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Leaf himself was a speaker at the rally.

The video then cuts to Leaf being interviewed by Fox 17’s Aaron Parseghian. The sheriff’s comments appear to begin mid-thought.

“Well, I haven’t read everything up on it,” Leaf begins. “I’ve got other duties to do. It wasn’t our investigation. So, I was shocked–I did not see this coming from those guys. But, still, we can’t convict them in the news media here. They do have the right to a fair trial.”

The sheriff was then asked if he has any “regrets” about sharing a stage with a man who has since been accused of trying to kidnap the governor. To which Leaf replied:

Well, it’s just a charge. 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 goes on to cite what he believed to be the statute that authorizes citizens’ arrests in Michigan.

“It doesn’t say if you’re in an elected office that you’re exempt from that arrest,” Leaf continued. “So, I have to look at it from that angle and I’m hoping that’s more of what it is. In fact, these guys are innocent until proven guilty–so I’m not even sure if they had any part in it.”

Reactions to the sheriff’s suggestion that the defendants were possibly plotting to make a “felony arrest” of the governor were summarily harsh.

“This is wild,” said noted criminal justice reform expert and Fordham Law Professor John Pfaff via Twitter. “The sheriff goes out of his way to lay out the defense for those accused of terrorism. Rarely has a sheriff emphasized so strongly the presumption of innocence or tried to create reasonable doubt.”

“Pretty terrifying, honestly,” he continued. “A sheriff [who is] clearly [okay with] the plot.”

Angelo Guisado is a Civil Rights attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. In a message to Law&Crime, he offered a prismatic view of the law enforcement official’s comments.

“Sheriff Dar Leaf’s supposition that the act was not a kidnapping of Governor Whitmer but a citizen’s arrest has to be understood in the historical context of citizen’s arrests,” he explained. “Originating from 13th century England, the precept followed to the colonies, including America, which many states used to justify slave patrols, wherein private citizens or, as here, militias, were empowered by the state to arrest and forcibly seize slaves to return them to their owners.”

“When you consider Governor Whitmer’s support for Black Lives Matter–including recently declaring racism a public health crisis–the motivations underlying the attempted seizure of the Governor start to come into clearer focus,” Guisado concluded.

Many commentators questioned whether or not the citizens of Michigan might have any recourse for what they saw as a local sheriff siding with accused far-right domestic terrorists. Attorney and incarceration and policing researcher/writer Jessica Pishko offered some perspective toward that end:

Pishko also provided some historical understanding of citizens’ arrests:

CNN legal analyst Asha Rangappa, a former FBI Special Agent, anticipated that Sheriff Leaf’s alternative theory about what happened would soon make its way to a certain rival network and the 45th president’s Twitter feed.

“This sheriff is trying to claim that kidnap conspiracy might have been a ‘citizen’s arrest.’ 🙄 Under Michigan law, someone making a citizen’s arrest is required to inform the person they intend to arrest and the reason why. Which would preclude the need to secretly kidnap them,” Rangappa said.

At least one of Rangappa’s CNN legal analyst colleagues said that Leaf should resign.

“He should resign,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “How could anyone trust this man to keep them safe?”

[image via screengrab/Fox 17]

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