By Nathaniel Bott, Rachel Bidock, Kenedi Robinson and Cydni Robinson
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporters
Law enforcement in Clinton County will be dealing with the issue of regaining trust in the public eye following the arrest of neighboring Ingham County’s chief prosecutor.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III was arrested in the early morning of March 14 on numerous charges, including 10 counts of engaging in the services of prostitution, four counts of willful neglect of duty, and one count of prostitution/pandering, a felony offense that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office.
DeWitt Township Police Chief Brian Russell was one law enforcement officer who was taken off guard by the arrest of Dunnings.
“I was shocked, I know everyone’s human and we make mistakes and the higher you go the harder you fall,” Russell said. “I know he’s still innocent until proven guilty, but I’m just shocked that someone that high in an office could be charged with these kind of crimes.”
Dunnings, who has served as the Ingham County Prosecutor since January 1997, is facing charges in in Clinton County and Ionia County in addition to Ingham. In Clinton County, Dunnings is charged with two counts of engaging in the services of prostitution and one count of willful neglect of duty, where he will face trial at the 65-A District Court in St. Johns.
With Dunnings’ arrest, the issue of trust between law enforcement and the general population has been brought to the forefront, primarily in Ingham County and Clinton County, and officers like Russell are taking notice.
“I think it just makes everyone look and make sure they are doing the right thing,” Russell said. “It does make you wonder, I think it opens everyone’s eyes up that something like this could happen. I hope it’s not true but we’ll see.”
According to the release, Dunnings’ arrest stemmed from the findings of a federal human trafficking investigation in 2015. The Attorney General’s office, the FBI and Ingham County Sheriff’s Department worked alongside each other, and information from witnesses led to Dunnings.
“I just feel sorry for the people that are involved,” St. Johns Police Chief Kyle Knight said. “I think that we are all sort of underestimating this prostitution, trafficking, that type of thing. It’s a new trend right now and I think that all of us police officers and judicial system needs to be more aware of it.”
Now, the issue of trust between law enforcement and the general population has been brought to the forefront, primarily in Ingham County and Clinton County, and officers like Russell are taking notice.
“The things Mr. Dunnings are alleged to have done doesn’t represent the best in law enforcement but we have a lot of really great law enforcement,” Andrea Bitely, communications director and press secretary for Attorney General Bill Schuette, said.
Christina DeJong, associate professor at Michigan State’s School of Criminal Justice, says that one of the most important factors for trust is fairness. For example, when a police officer pulls over a civilian, that civilian wants to be treated honestly and fairly. When they are not, it is likely for that person to lose trust in law enforcement as a whole.
“It really screws up public trust, or I should say trust of public officials in this case, because it was the prosecutor who was arrested,” DeJong said. “There’s probably a lot of mistrust of the prosecutor’s office which really doesn’t necessarily have an impact on the average day-to-day person.
“In a more indirect sense I think it does affect people’s perception of the criminal justice system as a whole, particularly among communities who might have already felt they’ve received unfair treatment from either police or prosecutors, so it’s a really damaging case in that regard,” DeJong said.
However, according to Patty Wagner, a manager at Hometown Pharmacy in DeWitt, she doesn’t seem to have a problem with trusting the law enforcement.
“All the police officers I know are either family or friends, so I would never suspect them of anything,” Wagner said.
Though Dunnings may be a unique situation, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the government will have to regain trust. According to Russell, it will be difficult for the government to cut ties with someone who was in office for so long, and regaining the trust of the people may take a long time.
“To regain trust is not an easy thing, once you lose it it’s a hard thing to gain and regain,” Russell said. “I think they’ll have to start with a new leader and he’s gonna have to go to regain the trust.”