2012-10-04 / Front Page

Encounter with homeowner, gun leads to new gypsy moth policy

By Krista Tacey-Cater

krista.tacey@houghtonlakeresorter.com

The Roscommon County Gypsy Moth Suppression Department’s policy on entering residential property has been revamped following an incident where a gypsy moth employee reported she had a gun pointed in her direction.

After the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 26, two gypsy moth committee meetings and a special commissioners meeting, a motion was approved by the commissioners to improve gypsy moth employees’ safety.

The new policy states that gypsy moth crew members are required to have written permission to access a homeowner’s property. If the homeowner does not give permission to enter the property or if the homeowner is not available to gain permission, the crew may not remain on the property. The policy also states that if a crew member or the gypsy moth coordinator feel they are in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation they shall leave the property immediately.

All the Roscommon County Commissioners, except for Commissioner Ken Melvin (District 2) who was absent, voted in favor of the policy during a special board meeting on Sept. 28.

Roscommon County

Sheriff’s Office Report

The situation that prompted these changes occurred on Sept. 11 when a 23- year old female crew member and another gypsy moth crew member entered property located on S. Maple Valley Rd. At the time the property owners were not present.

According to the Roscommon County Sheriff’s Office report, the female was checking for egg sacks when she noticed “a subject standing in the wood line watching them.” She stated that she had been wearing her gypsy moth vest that identified her as a crew member and she provided him with a pamphlet and told him who she was.

The report stated “he advised that he knew what she was talking about and then pointed the gun behind him so that it was no longer pointing in their direction.”

“He had his arm wrapped around the outside of the gun in the center, and had the forearm stock in his hand,” the report stated. “She advised that he did not even bring the gun up to his shoulder or purposely point it at her. She stated that he just seemed to be holding onto it and had it pointed in their general direction.”

According to the report the female said that the man never threatened them and that the gun was “for intimidation.”

The report also showed that the man had heard a helicopter flying overhead. The helicopter the man noticed was performing “hemp flights” [aerial marijuana searches] in the area at the time. He stated that it seemed much like when the fugitive hunt was happening earlier in the summer. He said he noticed people at his neighbor’s house and that he asked who the crew members were.

“He said they identified themselves and he then turned the butt stock of the gun so that it was facing them and the barrel was behind him,” the report stated.

The man said that “he never pointed the gun at anyone and would never do that.” He stated that he thought someone was breaking into his neighbor’s home and that was the only reason he had a gun with him.

Effects of the New Policy

Before the new policy was passed, there were two separate gypsy moth committee meetings to discuss the effects the new policy would have on the gypsy moth suppression program.

“It’s going to drastically change the gypsy moth program,” Melvin said during a gypsy moth committee meeting on Sept. 27. Melvin is the chairman of the gypsy moth committee.

During the Sept. 27 meeting, Gypsy Moth Suppression Coordinator Lucille Eisbrenner, Melvin, Commission Vice- Chairman Marc Milburn, Prosecutor Mark Jernigan, Assistant Prosecutor Bob Bennett, several gypsy moth employees, including the one involved in the incident happen, and members of the community were present.

At the meeting, the group discussed how to proceed with their duties to prevent another situation like this.

First Bennett said crew members would be deemed “trespassers” on residential property and if they were to get hurt on the job the owner would not be responsible, however, the county would.

Melvin said this change will make the job more difficult as not as many homes will be able to be inspected. Eisbrenner added the idea of having the property owner sign a standard document stating that inspection can take place may also be a possibility as it would provide written permission.

In the event an owner does not want to have an inspection, Eisbrenner said they would have to inform the county of their wishes.

“Somehow we are going to have to educate everyone [of the changes],” Melvin said.

Melvin suggested sending letters in property tax information or by notices in the newspaper.

Jernigan added the goal of the new policy is to ensure employee safety and to ensure that crew members are entering property in the most legal manner possible so similar situations do not occur.

Gypsy moth crew member Kirk Lattimore said the addition of gaining permission is “not doing anything for our protection.” He added that the man who had the gun should be “made an example of” so other county residents do not approach employees with firearms and “take the law into their own hands.”

Jernigan said with the changes employees would have never been on the property because the owner was not home.

“Change comes usually reactionary and that’s unfortunate,” Jernigan said.

Jernigan added “nobody should get hurt over a gypsy moth” and that the situation could have been handled differently and that the man would not be charged.

“Is he a criminal, no I don’t think he is a criminal,” Jernigan said of the man with the gun.

In addition Jernigan said he will be available in the future if questions arise about how gypsy moth employees should proceed with entering property.

Eisbrenner added she will be looking for more direction in the future if the need arrives.

No Charges Pressed

Assistant Prosecutor Bob Bennett told the Resorter in a Sept. 27 telephone interview, the man with the gun could not be charged because there “was no criminal intent.”

He said there were two possible charges that could have been a result of the incident. The first could have been simple assault and battery, which he defined as “fear of an immediate battery.” The second was felonious assault, which was defined as an attempt to “have done something to make you fear for your life.”

Bennett said from reading the police report that contained the gypsy moth employee’s statements there are no grounds to prove that there were any actions on the man’s part that would have fallen under the two charges.

“We can’t charge,” Bennett said.

He added that the situation could have been handled differently on both party’s side, however, no charges will be made.

Female Crew Member’s Concerns

The female gypsy moth employee told the Roscommon County Commissioners during the Sept. 26 meeting there are discrepancies between her statements and the male property owner. She said the man never questioned who she was and did not say anything to her until she told him who she was. She added she had no idea he was standing there until she happened to turn around.

During a Sept. 26 gypsy moth meeting after the commissioners meeting, Lt. Chapman told the female to resubmit a statement to reflect her account of the incident.

She added she also had problems with the way the situation was handled on the county’s part. She said nobody came to her until a few days after the incident happened.

“Why has no one come to speak to me [how she was doing],” she asked the board.

Chairman Bob Schneider (District 5) and Vice-Chair Marc Milburn (District 4) both told the crew member the situation was dealt with in a timely manner and that the safety and wellbeing of all the crew members are of the most importance.

Melvin suggested during the Sept. 26 gypsy moth meeting that the female seek counseling to address her fears and issues with what had happened to her.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Melvin said. “...I feel very deeply for your concern, I want to see whatever is necessary for you done.”

County Controller Cheryl Mollard said in an Oct. 3 interview, the female employee declined counseling.

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