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Noose found at Macomb County center sparks probe

Mark Hicks

Macomb County authorities are investigating an African-American employee’s allegation that she found a noose at work this fall.

A letter from Andrea Brown, a youth specialist for the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center in Mount Clemens, detailing the Oct. 12 incident first prompted an internal investigation by the county’s human resources staff. But after its probe concluded this month, the department acknowledged only “an unprofessional exchange,” prompting Brown to seek further action.

Though the human resources findings were inconclusive, County Executive Mark Hackel “is not satisfied with that,” Chief Deputy Executive Mark Deldin told The News, so the case has also been referred to the local Department of Justice office, he said.

“These are serious issues,” Deldin said Friday night. “This type of harassment we take very seriously.”

In a letter to the county Human Resources and Labor Relations Department, Brown described returning from a break to a controlled area where two other staffers had been.

“I sat down … looked to my right and noticed something hanging down from the cabinet over the windows,” Brown wrote. “It was an image of a person hanging, a noose tied around its neck, made out of tape and Kleenex.”

The discovery left her “in shock and disbelief,” according to the statement. Brown informed her supervisor, who she said had not seen the figure earlier.

Brown’s letter prompted the internal investigation by the county’s human resources office.

In a letter dated Dec. 9, Karen Bathanti, service director for the office, told Brown the probe had been completed. Though officials couldn’t verify a policy violation, they determined “an unprofessional exchange did occur,” she wrote.

Unsatisfied, Brown turned to Greg Murray, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Advocacy Coalition, which works to address disparities. She then filed complaints with the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office as well as the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, he said.

“The county didn’t do this but they have a responsibility to find out who did. …We won’t rest until we have a result to this issue,” said Murray, who is speaking on Brown’s behalf. “She works in a controlled work space with limited access. You have to have a key card or keys to that room. She left and went on break and came to find the noose hanging where it had not been when she was on break.”

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham confirmed Brown filed a report with his office this week. A probe is underway, he said Friday night. “We have to take a look at all aspects of the complaint and follow up and do our own due diligence.”

During the first investigation, about nine employees were interviewed, Deldin said.

All county employees are amid mandatory professional development training that includes a focus on diversity and inclusion, and Macomb has a “zero tolerance” policy on workplace harassment, he said. “We want to find out who the person or persons were that put this there. That sends a strong message through the organization that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”

Murray welcomed the county’s work and hopes it helps Brown, who fears retaliation.

“We’ve seen these similar incidents occur across the country and there’s a pattern there of intimidation that we recognize and wish to eliminate,” he said. “So the goal is to find out who placed that noose there and for them to experience the full weight of the criminal justice system.”