Wayne County canvasser condemns 'disturbing' texts after threat charge issued

Breana Noble Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Farmington Hills — Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Wayne County Board of Canvassers Chairwoman Monica Palmer condemned messages threatening herself and her 12-year-old daughter that have landed a former Michigan resident in federal court. 

Palmer, a day after the charge was announced against Katelyn Jones, said she felt “sheer terror” upon receiving one of the texts last month, a day after the board certified roughly 878,000 votes in Wayne County for the Nov. 3 election. 

Wayne County Board of Canvassers member Monica Palmer holds a press conference at the law offices of Michael Schwartz, at right, in Farmington Hills, Mich. on Dec. 24, 2020.

"It was very, very, very disturbing," Palmer said. "It contained nude photos of mutilated, assaulted, dead women and directly following that was a picture of my daughter, telling me that I should imagine those photos were my daughter and that my husband, myself and my daughter should be afraid for our lives because we're terrorists for interfering with the election."

Palmer, one of two Republicans on the four-member board, said she does not believe she has crossed paths with Jones and didn't recognize her number. 

"When it's coming from somewhere you don't know, you're looking behind your back every minute of every day," Palmer said. "You're not sleeping."

Jones, 23, a former Olivet resident who lives in Epping, New Hampshire, was charged Wednesday with threatening violence through interstate commerce after an FBI investigation into alleged texts and Instagram messages she directed toward Palmer. 

The threat charge is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Police say Jones sent Palmer texts of a bloody, deceased, mutilated female body, photos of Palmer's daughter and threats of harm toward Palmer's daughter. 

According to authorities, Jones admitted to sending the texts and Instagram messages after Palmer initially voted to not certify, then changed her mind and voted to certify Wayne County's results. Palmer later attempted to rescind her vote to certify the results. 

Palmer on Thursday defended her initial vote, arguing that the board needs correct and accurate information "to make sure every vote is counted whether Republican or Democrat." Palmer said she was missing some of that documentation when she was asked to certify.

"It's been a rocky road," Palmer said. "I'm not sure how, trying to do the right thing and making a vote to certify numbers, turned into attacks against my family, my husband and my minor child. That's not OK for anyone."

About 23% of the precincts or absentee counting boards in Wayne County were out of balance without explanations after the local canvassing process ended, meaning the number of voters tracked in poll books didn't match the number of ballots counted. 

Precincts are often out of balance because of simple errors, such as tabulators jamming, an envelope mistakenly missing an absentee ballot, or someone could be issued a ballot for the wrong precinct, which could leave two precincts out of balance.

The alleged threats come as Republican and Democratic public officials are reporting extreme behavior and threats in the wake of a controversial election and months of anger over COVID-19 capacity and business restrictions. 

In the past two months, 14 people have been charged in an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and kill police officers. Authorities say the plot included training and planning by a militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Whitmer and storm Michigan's Capitol in Lansing.

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said she was "disgusted" by the threats sent to Palmer. 

"This type of behavior is unacceptable in our society, and I am shocked and appalled," Cox said in a statement. "I am calling for our state’s top Democrats, including Governor Whitmer, to make clear that this will not be tolerated and that whoever takes part in these types of actions will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”  

Comments made during the canvassers meeting and posts on social media shared Palmer's home and work addresses, phone number and school her daughter attends, Palmer said Thursday.

"I'm still fearful," Palmer said. "I can't go to the grocery store. I can't go Christmas shopping. I can't do anything without fear that somebody's going to snatch my daughter."

She has an inquiry into local police over whether an investigation is continuing into the other threats.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.