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Madison Heights residents are fighting citations issued last Thursday under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order by arguing their six-person gathering was exempt.

Madison Heights police ticketed four individuals Thursday who were gathered in a group of six at an area residence, Police Chief Corey Haines said.

The homeowners were not ticketed, but the visitors were for a violation of the governor's prohibition on public and private gatherings contained within the stay-home order. Violations of the stay-home order are treated as misdemeanors, punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

The state also recently created a separate civil fine of up to $1,000 for violations of the order, but those fines are administered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, not local police departments.

The individuals' activity was legal because it fell within exemptions of the order, said Nicholas Somberg, a lawyer who represents three of the four people ticketed. They'll be fighting the tickets, said Somberg, who anticipates others across the state facing similar actions will do so as well. 

"This is going to be common," he said. 

The individuals who were ticketed had been advised before to follow the governor's order in an effort to keep the spread of infection down, Haines said. 

Oakland County is one of two Michigan counties hardest hit by the virus, with 3,736 confirmed cases and 205 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Madison Heights had 90 confirmed cases and nine deaths as of Wednesday, according to state data. It has a population of 30,173. 

"The executive order states, 'Stay at Home,' not go to your friends' home for a party," Haines said. 

"We’re trying to do everything under the governor’s order as reasonably as possible and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt as to how they’re interpreting the order," he added.

Somberg said police entered the back yard to write up the tickets without a search warrant.

Further, he said his clients fell under exemptions to the rule because they were in between two residences and were maintaining six-foot distances. They were largely engaging in outdoor activity and, when they weren't outdoors, they were working on a car in the garage, he said. 

Vehicle service is exempt under the order, Somberg added.

Somberg's description of his clients' activity is incorrect, Haines said. The police chief declined to answer a question about whether his police officers entered the back yard. 

Even if the exemptions didn't apply, the order is unconstitutional and unenforceable, said Somberg, who was among a few dozen people protesting the executive order Tuesday outside the state Capitol. 

"The executive order is illegitimate," Somberg said. "It's overbroad. It's unconstitutional. It's just a power grab. It's not making any difference. I don’t think it’s designed to.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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