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09-17-2020 Police & Fire

Police and Fire Reports

By Annette Christie

Fire officials reinstated; Fire Board to review everything

The Watervliet Joint Fire Board convened their meeting on Sept. 15, 2020, in the fire truck bays, to maintain six feet between individuals attending the meeting.

Following the standard monthly business, the board addressed a personnel matter that still lingered, however, would not identify what that matter was. Following their special meeting on August 27, 2020, Watervliet Fire Chief Dan Jones and 2nd Lt. Justin Scheetz were placed on paid administrative leave until the next meeting, which was held Tuesday night.

The minutes of that meeting reflect that the special meeting was called to discuss a personnel matter, to which both Scheetz and Jones asked for closed sessions. It was following those closed sessions that the board took the action of putting each of them on paid administrative leave.

The meeting Tuesday night had “personnel matter” under old business.

The board approved a motion to place a written warning in each of their files (Jones and Scheetz). There was some question on whether that type of action was allowed under board policy to which board member Joe Stepich said the policy gave the board the leeway to do whatever they felt appropriate.

Chairman Deane Fizzell said that all of the board members were presented with all the policies, handbook, employment agreement, and the fire board agreement between municipalities. With that, he said he would like all board members to go through the materials and note areas that needed updating or changed. In addition, he distributed payroll and administrative processes for the department so that could be updated also. He had hoped that at next month’s meeting they could go over the changes.

Stepich alluded to a situation and noted that in the course of this “situation”, the board has heard this and that and that the board needs to do a thorough job of looking at things, including themselves. “We need to take a look at ourselves; perhaps there are a lot of things that we didn’t see. We need to look at our processes and our procedures. This may not get done in a month,” Stepich said.

Board member Patt Bambrick said she has a tendency to look at projects, identify areas of need, and prioritize them. She wants to approach it in a manner that allows everyone to be heard, fire fighters, officers, and even the board. “Everyone deserves fair treatment,” Bambrick said.

Board member Melanie Marvin noted that she has reviewed the folder already and has questions recorded that she would like answers for. She said that what are needed are clear concise practices in place. She noted that while the board may have played a part in the department getting where it is today, as a board member she owns that. “We need to have clear expectations for ourselves, the officers, and all those serving on the department,” Marvin said. She wanted to identify a timeframe for the review of the materials provided and also the compilation of questions for Chief Jones.

Marvin made the motion to keep the chief on paid administrative leave as the board took time to review the materials, perhaps until September 30. That motion, supported by member Dave Brinker, failed from lack of support.

2nd Lt. Justin Scheetz asked about his status. He verified that he had not resigned and wondered what his status was. There was some back and forth between Scheetz and the board regarding training and department vs. state requirements. Chief Jones, also in the audience, stated that Scheetz is behind on some training as required by department policy. He noted that Scheetz has all the certifications as required by the state, however, some departmental training is lacking. Scheetz was reinstated as 2nd Lt. as well.

While further details of the incident would not be revealed by the board, the previous minutes of the Fire Board may give some kind of indication.

At the July 21, 2020 meeting of the Fire Board, Chief Jones stated that he would be restructuring the positions in the department and that it would affect firefighters and officers.

At the August 18, 2020 Fire Board meeting, the minutes state that Chief Jones informed the board that 2nd Lt. Justin Scheetz has resigned as 2nd lieutenant. He stated that Justin told him that he “just wants to be a black hat”. Chief Jones explained that Justin has not been showing up for any training and had only responded to two calls in three months. Dave Woodward confirmed that Justin is not up to date on his training and therefore, would not be allowed to respond. When asked if Justin had been notified of his “non-compliant” status, Chief Jones confirmed that, “He has been made aware.”

It was then on August 27, 2020, for a special meeting that each person involved was allowed to have a closed session and prior to adjourning that meeting, Scheetz and Jones were both placed on administrative leave with pay until September 15.

In re-instating both the chief and Scheetz, the board will move forward as they begin their review of the governing documents of the Fire Board and department.

In public comments, Marvin thanked Bill Whitney and all the firefighters that maintained the department while Jones and Scheetz were on leave.

Search warrant leads to multiple firearms & drug seizure in Benton Twp.

A narcotics search warrant executed by SWET-West detectives resulted in the seizure of multiple firearms, illegal drugs, and cash. The search warrant took place on Thursday, Sept. 10 at a residence on Milton Street in Benton Township.

During the search, detectives seized approximately 3.5 ounces of crack cocaine, two rifles, two pistols, three liters of promethazine, approximately 250 doses of ecstasy, and cash from suspected unlawful drug sales.

SWET detectives were assisted by Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Detective Division, FBI Violent Crimes Task Force and Michigan State Police.

The following suspects were arrested and lodged at the Berrien County jail on various felony charges: 25-year-old Larry Washington Brooks Jr. of Benton Harbor – possession with intent to deliver cocaine, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime; 20-year-old Evorion Marshion Anderson of Benton Harbor – possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime; and 22-year-old Nathaniel Damontae Wigfall-Fultz of Benton Harbor – possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine.

All three suspects were arraigned in the 5th District Court on Sept. 11, 2020. Additional charges are being sought for other suspects related to this investigation. Those charges include possession with intent to distribute promethazine, maintaining a drug house, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and felony firearms.

The Southwest Enforcement Team (SWET) is comprised of sworn law enforcement personnel from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, South Haven Police Department, Covert Township Police Department, Benton Harbor Public Safety Department, Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, Barry County Sheriff’s Office, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, Hasting Police Department, Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, Kalamazoo Township Police Department, Saint Joseph County Sheriff’s Office, Sturgis Police Department and Michigan State Police.

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