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Sheriffs, prosecutor condemn Barry County sheriff's comments on alleged Whitmer kidnapping plot

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan Sheriff’s Association has condemned comments by the Barry County sheriff that appeared to defend the 13 men who were arrested on allegations that they planned to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, storm the Capitol and try to start a civil war. 

Sheriff Dar Leaf’s comments were “dangerous” and nothing about the alleged actions of the 13 individuals should be understood to be “legal, moral or American," wrote Matthew Saxton, executive director and CEO for the Michigan Sheriffs Association.

“It is, frankly, disheartening that any law enforcement official with any time in service of his or her oath could respond that way,” Saxton wrote in a Tuesday open letter that also thanked state and federal investigators involved in the case. 

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf addresses the crowd during the "American Patriot Rally —Sheriffs Speak Out" event at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, May 18, 2020. Leaf said that he will not enforce the governor's stay-at-home order stating it's unconstitutional.

Leaf did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The statement comes four days after Leaf — who appeared on stage with some of the suspects at a May rally — told Fox 17 the individuals had been “nice and respectful to him” and deserved a fair trial. 

“I was shocked. I did not see this coming for those guys,” Leaf said about the charges against Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell and William Null, 38, of Shelbyville.

“A lot of people are angry with the governor and they want her arrested. So are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnap attempt?” he said, arguing that their plot may have been allowed under a citizen arrest statute. 

“It doesn’t say if you’re in elected office that you’re exempt from that arrest. I have to look at it from that angle and I’m hoping that’s more of what it is,” he said.

Michael and William Null were each charged with providing material support for terrorist acts — which is a 20-year felony — and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony — a two-year mandatory prison sentence that would be served right after the 20-year sentence if found guilty.

Leaf’s comments became a topic of national media coverage and drew immediate condemnation from Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

“As Michigan’s top law enforcement official, let me make this abundantly clear —Persons who are not sworn, licensed members of a law enforcement agency cannot and should not ‘arrest’ government officials with whom they have disagreements,” Nessel said in a tweet. “These comments are dangerous.”

Barry County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor Pratt also condemned Leaf’s comments in a Tuesday statement.

“Sheriff Leaf is not a lawyer, nor is he licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan, yet he inaccurately cited a law that is inapplicable and is meant to aid the very citizens and law enforcement he is sworn to protect,” Nakfoor Pratt wrote. 

“There is no logical, legal or ethical basis for statements that defend or condone behavior that threatens the safety of Gov. Whitmer, fellow law enforcement, or any other citizen in this country,” she wrote. 

Michigan’s citizen arrest law largely hinges on whether the crime being committed is a felony or whether the person is summoned by a police officer to help with the arrest. The law also allows shop owners, employees or a security contractor to make a citizen's arrest in the event of retail fraud.

But Leaf himself earlier this year questioned who is able to make an arrest.

In May, the sheriff spoke at the American Patriot Rally — Sheriffs Speak Out rally in Grand Rapids, where he said he would not enforce Whitmer's stay-home orders.

“I do also question whether or not those are actually lawful orders,” he said. “The lockdown, technically, that’s an arrest, and can she legally do that?" 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com