Dems: Chatfield only gave security option to GOP during armed protest

Police and sergeants-at-arms try to keep order at the conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols
Updated, 7:47 p.m., 5/7/20, 6:02 a.m, 5/8/20 with comments from Chatfield’s office

One week after heavily armed protesters spilled into the Michigan Capitol during session, prompting some lawmakers to fear for their lives, Democratic House members say that they were not made aware of police security available to them.

But they said their Republican colleagues were able to take up the offer from the Michigan State Police (MSP) to escort lawmakers to and from the Capitol for the April 30 session if they felt unsafe.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield and House Minority Leader Christine Greig at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) told the Advance that not only was her caucus not informed by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) about security options for members, but that Chatfield himself had guards stationed at his door. 

“I was not informed,” Greig said. “The speaker also had a guard outside of his office. I was not given that option. Clearly, they had access to the security information and did not share it with my caucus.”

Greig said that a sergeant-at-arms and an MSP trooper were stationed at different times outside Chatfield’s office door in the Capitol for a half-day during the protest.

Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said in an email, “The Speaker was in session. A sergeant was available nearby to assist the staff should there be any issue.”*

State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) also told the Advance that his office never received any such information from Chatfield.

“I can’t speak to who Speaker Chatfield may or may not have shared information with, but the MSP has always offered security services to legislators, in cooperation with both the House and Senate police departments, as well,” said MSP spokesperson Shanon Banner.

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D’Assandro said Thursday “that information was never shared with the speaker or his office.”*

“The House sergeants have a long-standing policy to provide both members and staff escorts between buildings and to their vehicles for security,” he added. “That is in effect at all times for everyone, not just on days with protests.”*

Regardless, this confusion led to a Democratic caucus call with the Michigan State Police (MSP) on Monday, in which MSP informed lawmakers that they had reached out to the chief sergeants-at-arms in both galleries on “numerous occasions” to offer their services to legislators who felt unsafe leaving or entering the Capitol.

A copy of the MSP’s responses to questions during the caucus call obtained by the Advance said that “the House has never asked for these escorts.”

After receiving the information from the MSP, Chief Senate Sergeant Michael Ferland and Chief House Sergeant David Dickson then passed it onto the leaders of their chamber, who were expected to make the option known to their members.

“Information about security protocol are made available to the entire Senate,” said GOP spokeswoman Amber McCann.*

A Senate Democratic spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment, although some Democratic senators told the Advance that they had been aware of the security option, unlike their House counterparts.

That weapons-laden April 30 protest prompted several lawmakers to take their safety into their own hands. At least one lawmaker, state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), wore a bulletproof vest to session.

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This week, state Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) was escorted to the Capitol by a group of armed African American citizens who wanted to make sure Anthony could attend without fear of intimidation from the majority-white protesters, and demonstrate that Second Amendment Rights aren’t limited to one race.

Anthony also told the Lansing City Pulse that she did not find out about the option of having a police escort to and from the Capitol until this week.

The protest has since sparked intense debate about whether the Capitol’s rules should be changed to prohibit the open-carry firearms inside the building — especially since signs have been prohibited inside the building for years.

In Monday’s caucus call document of MSP responses, First Lt. Timothy Fitzgerald notes that there were once magnetometers inside the Capitol building during the former Gov. John Engler administration.

Those magnetometers were positioned outside the House and Senate galleries only. At that time, open carry was only prohibited in the galleries and was allowed elsewhere in the building. 

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The question of whether and how to prohibit guns from the state Capitol has been posed to members of the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC), which manages the Capitol building and its grounds.

John Truscott, vice chair of the commission and president of the Lansing-based Truscott Rossman PR firm, told WILS-AM host Dave Akerly this week that the MSCC is looking into whether they would be legally able to change those rules.

“Open carry is allowed in Michigan, so whether or not we can ban it from the Capitol, I’m not sure yet. And our lawyers are working on it, and we have a meeting on Monday and I look forward to getting some of their research back so we’ll know what parameters we’re operating within,” Truscott said on the “Morning Wake-Up” show.

Despite describing himself as a “2nd Amendment advocate,” Truscott said he was “disturbed” by the way protesters wielded their firearms in the Capitol and used them to intimidate lawmakers.

Truscott, who has worked for several Republicans, including Engler, said legislators have reached out to the MSCC directly for its help on the issue. But the commission still needs to determine whether it has the ability to change the rule themselves or if the only change can be made through legislation.

The MSCC’s next meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday.