Neighbor, cops: Protesters trespassed at Schuette home

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A Midland neighbor of Attorney General Bill Schuette says an unruly crowd of protesters trespassed on Schuette’s lawn, banged on the doors and littered the property during a Wednesday demonstration that had to be broken up by police.

Wednesday’s demonstration in Midland targeted an Enbridge oil line in the Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Ieuter, who has lived next door to Bill and Cynthia Schuette for nine years, said about 40 people marched around the Schuettes’ lawn early Wednesday afternoon, throwing toilet paper in the trees, leaving fake headstones in the grass and hanging signs from the trees.

“The people were adamant that they weren’t going to leave the yard,” Ieuter said Thursday, confirming Cynthia Schuette’s account. “Very clearly they trespassed throughout the entire yard, and they were, yes, banging on the doors.”

At least one protester claimed demonstrators didn’t bang on the doors or windows.

Cynthia Schuette was inside the home when the demonstration began. The Attorney General’s office called the protesters “thugs” who were trying to intimidate Bill Schuette while his wife was alone.

The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands and the radical environmental group Earth First! organized the demonstration. It appears they came prepared to make a statement against the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac — an issue in which Schuette is involved.

Another Schuette neighbor took a photo of a woman using climbing ropes to hang a large banner from two tall trees in the front lawn that read “No Line 5! Pipelines = Ecogenocide.”

“Somehow I doubt folks just happen to drive around with this equipment in their trunk, just in case. Cased the house?” Schuette aide John Sellek asked Thursday on his personal Twitter page.

Midland police officers were called to the Schuettes’ home around 1:30 p.m. and found people all over the lawn and evidence of chocolate sauce tossed on the beige brick home and water balloons thrown at the house, interim Lt. Michael Sokol said Thursday.

“The house at that time was surrounded. People were in the back yard and front yard,” Sokol told The Detroit News.

Police officers observed protesters banging on the front door and ground-level windows of Schuette’s house, Sokol said.

“Once we arrived, they stopped,” Sokol said.

After speaking with Cynthia Schuette, Sokol said police dispersed the crowd to the street, where the demonstration continued for a few more minutes until more officers arrived from the Midland County Sheriff’s Department and state police.

“It was their right to stand there; they were on city property,” he said. “I think they accomplished what they wanted to.”

Chocolate sauce also was dumped on the driveway in what protesters said was supposed to represent an oil spill. Television crews later filmed workers washing off the driveway.

Because of their schedules, Midland officers who responded to the disturbance won’t have their report completed until early next week, Sokol said.

The Schuettes have not said whether they want the Midland police to pursue charges for trespassing and littering, he said.

“There’s no actual damage done,” Sokol said.

State police troopers guarded the Schuette’s house overnight Wednesday, and the city police took over Thursday morning, Sellek said.

Bill Schuette was out-of-state Wednesday at a conference at the time, according to his office.

“Bill and Cynthia Schuette have focused on taking care of each other first and in time will review what happened and if further action is desired,” Sellek said Thursday in a statement.

Ieuter said Cynthia Schuette appeared “a little rattled” by the surprise protest on a dead-end street in a quiet neighborhood.

“She handled herself very calm, cool and collected, and she knows that these people are just wasting their time,” Ieuter said. “The Schuettes are very neighborly, polite people, and they did not deserve this in any way shape or form.”

The groups that organized the protest said in a statement Wednesday they demonstrated at Schuette’s home to pressure him to shut down Line 5.

The protest generated bipartisan condemnation.

“The private property & families of elected officials should be off limits. This is over the line of legit protest,” Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon said on Twitter.

An activist who identified himself as Dan Ayler on Wednesday said that none of the protesters had banged on windows or doors at the Schuette home.

“I find it disturbing the attorney general is going to lie about what people were doing,” the man told The Detroit News.

But on Thursday, The News sought follow-up comment from Ayler but couldn’t re-establish contact or confirm his identity.

The phone number the man used to call a reporter is associated with Duncan Tarr, an activist with Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands who has had past run-ins with the law.

In January 2015, Tarr was sentenced to one year of probation for locking his neck to an oil pipeline contractor’s truck with a bicycle lock during an August 2014 protest in Oxford of Enbridge’s Line 6B oil pipeline, the Oakland Press reported.

Staff Writer Jonathan Oostring contributed.