Police and Fire Reports
By Annette Christie
Life jackets absent in water rescue
Once again emergency responders are reminding those that take to the rivers of our County to wear a floatation device.
The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office responded to a water rescue call near 2300 Bluff Street in Niles Township for individuals on the Dowagiac Creek on June 24. Due to recent heavy rains the Dowagiac creek, along with many other bodies of water, is high and moving at a steady pace.
Three females were sharing a single inner tube. The women were not wearing life jackets when their inner tube flipped over. Two of the females, after struggling, were able to get to shore, however the third one was unable to get to shore. She did manage to get a hold of a tree that bridged the river and was able to hang on.
Rescue workers were able to pull the women to safety in a joint effort between local, state and county police and fire units.
The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind people to wear personal flotation devices when enjoying water activities this summer.
Coloma Township Police activity
The Coloma Township Police Department responded to a home in the 6800 block of Miami Dr. in Coloma Township on June 25. Officers were responding to an assault involving a chainsaw.
After arriving on the scene and completing an investigation, the suspect was arrested. The 39-year-old Buchanan man was lodged on two counts of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder.
The victim, a 45-year-old Coloma man, received injuries to his arm and side after being struck by the chainsaw, which was not running. He was treated for his injuries and released.
On June 19, a Coloma Township Police officer stopped a vehicle on Paw Paw Lake Road near Lake Street for an equipment violation at approximately 10:00 p.m.
Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer detected the odor of marijuana and later recovered suspected marijuana from the vehicle.
The driver, a 23-year-old South Haven man was issued a misdemeanor appearance citation for possession of marijuana and released. The passenger, a 20-year-old Coloma man posted bond on an outstanding arrest warrant.
Also, on June 19, at approximately 2:05 p.m., officers stopped a vehicle on Paw Paw Lake Road near Little Paw Paw Lake Road after observing an individual known not to have a valid operator’s license, driving a vehicle.
The suspect, a 42-year-old Coloma man, was issued a misdemeanor appearance citation for driving with a suspended license, 2nd offense.
Michigan State Police hosts leadership academies
The Michigan State Police has hosted two leadership academies recently with youth from the Watervliet, Coloma, and Hartford school districts taking part.
Rural Youth Leadership Initiative
The Rural Youth Leadership Initiative was held June 18-21 at the community based transition center in Paw Paw. It is a juvenile outreach program focused on young men in Van Buren County between the ages of 14 and 16. The youth are at risk of dropping out of high school or are academically unmotivated.
Students participating in this year’s program were selected from Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Decatur and Hartford public schools. The program focuses on teaching leadership skills and self-discipline while establishing career goals to be successful in school and the workplace. During the four-day session, troopers are mentoring these young men in small group sessions and engaging them in teambuilding activities to reinforce the importance of responsible decision making and good citizenship. Each day ends with a session of physical training and personal wellness.
Through the program the young men were addressed by troopers, local business leaders, members of the armed forces, and elected officials. The students were also able to tour Pfizer and Kalamazoo Valley Community College to expose them to different career options and training opportunities.
The Rural Youth Leadership Initiative was made possible through the Byrne JAG Grant, and through partnerships with the Van Buren Intermediate School District, local businesses, Pfizer, KVCC, and Senator Margaret O’Brien.
All Girls Michigan Youth Leadership Academy
Twenty-three young women ages 14-15 will graduate from the Michigan Youth Leadership Academy this Thursday, June 28.
The girls attending the academy were selected from Benton Harbor, Benton Harbor Girls Academy, Brandywine, Cassopolis, Coloma, Dowagiac, Eau Claire, Lakeshore, Marcellus, River Valley, and Watervliet schools. One student is home schooled.
Mentors from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies helped the students learn leadership and mentoring skills, while developing their personal character. The academy offered students a crash course covering various topics, including but not limited to physical activity, water safety, nutrition, alcohol and drug awareness, gang awareness, domestic violence awareness, first aid, interviewing and job techniques, leadership, and public speaking. They were also able to tour the University of Michigan, the State Capital, and participate in team and character building exercises.
Attendance to the academy was at no cost and was funded through the Byrne JAG grant. The Meijer Foundation of Grand Rapids, Lakeland Health, Charlena Berry Professional Services, Andrews University, the Howard Performing Arts Center, Porky’s Party Place of Cassopolis, Calvin Creek Farms, Cassopolis Fire House Volunteers and private individuals made this program possible.
Berrien County prosecutor challenges judge ruling in juvenile life sentence subject
Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic is asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to hear an appeal on a ruling by Berrien County Judge Donahue that Sepic says is flawed.
Michael Johnson pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced by Berrien County Judge Julian Hughes to life in prison on September 22, 1980. The sentence was parolable for Johnson, who was 17 when he caused the death of Sue Ellen Machemer, age 16.
Sepic said in a press release provided June 26 that it should be noted that the Michigan Parole Board, on several occasions over the last 38 years, has refused to give Mr. Johnson a parole hearing, which is their prerogative. For an inmate serving a life sentence, a majority of the 10-member board has to agree to give such an inmate a parole hearing.
Over the years, the case has returned to the trial court level on a variety of issues, the last resulting in a decision by Donahue on a procedure known as a Motion for Relief from Judgment.
Sepic said Judge Donahue decided that the original sentence was invalid because the United States Supreme Court decisions of “Miller vs. Alabama” and “Montgomery vs. Louisiana” involving juvenile life without parole sentences applies to Mr. Johnson’s parolable life sentence. As a result, Judge Donahue has ordered Mr. Johnson to be resentenced using the new criteria outlined by the “Miller” case.
Sepic said, “This prosecutor’s office argued against that analysis before Judge Donahue and filed a brief in the matter.”
“Many letters have been received suggesting it is time for Mr. Johnson to be released. It may be that time; however, it is not the position of the prosecutor to decide when it is time for someone to exit prison. The laws of the State of Michigan do not grant the prosecutor that discretion. At this juncture in Mr. Johnson’s criminal justice path, the parole board and the governor have that opportunity,” Sepic said.
“It is the opinion of this prosecutor’s office that when a judge makes an error in the legal analysis of a case and that decision may affect other cases, the prosecutor has a responsibility to make sure the law is followed,” Sepic said. It is Prosecutor Sepic’s opinion that the decision to grant Mr. Johnson a resentencing hearing based upon the “Miller” case is flawed, thus the prosecutor’s office has filed an appeal of Judge Donahue’s decision with the Michigan Court of Appeals. “The reason this is important to other cases is that the natural extension of Judge Donahue’s decision is that any 17-year-old (an adult for criminal law purposes in the Michigan), convicted of any crime would have to be sentenced using the ‘Miller’ factors,” Sepic said.
The Michigan Court of Appeals will either accept or reject hearing the appeal.
The North Berrien Fire Rescue Department responded to 14 calls for service in the month of June. Included in those calls were three downed power lines, two burning complaints, two motor vehicle accidents, two rubbish fires, two medical assists, and one water rescue. The department also responded to one smoke / fire alarm.