By Rachel Beard, Hannah Brenner, Grant Essenmacher and Ana Williams
Lansing Township News Staff Reporters
Lansing Township citizens and leadership turned on their televisions on March 14 and were shocked to hear Attorney General Bill Schuette announce that Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III had been arrested and faced with 15 separate charges related to prostitution.
“I have worked with Stuart Dunnings while I have served as Attorney General,” Schuette said. “I am saddened that an elected official who holds a special trust from voters and is the chief prosecutor in our capital city would allegedly engage in conduct causing felony and misdemeanor charges to be filed.”
But for Lansing Township officials, it’s been business as usual since Dunnings’ arrest.
Lansing Township Police Chief Kay Hoffman realizes that the necessary reaction is to keep moving forward, operating and protecting citizens as if everything is normal.
“We are moving on and operating as we normally do,” Hoffman said. “I believe the prosecutor’s office is functioning just fine right now and I’m confident it will continue.”
Lansing Township Supervisor Diontrae Hayes also says the township’s operations have gone on unaffected by Dunnings’ arrest.
“It doesn’t have a negative effect on our department or our township at all because there are other capable people who are stepping up to fill in the void while Mr. Dunnings undergoes the due process,” Hayes said.
Furthermore, Hayes doesn’t anticipate it will directly affect the operations of the township.
“I don’t think our work load or our caseload would be directly impacted [by the prosecutor’s arrest],” Hayes said. “Now, there is the case of whether or not this dampens another layer of government, because people look at us as public servants, and I think it’s too soon to make any predictions, because we have to let this play out.
“We have to allow him to have his day in court before any of us speculate on what we’ve been reading, or what we do think, or kind of the water cooler talk.”
Hayes and Hoffman both found out about Dunnings’ arrest by seeing it on the news, like most Lansing Township residents.
Lansing Township resident Perry Holmes has a strong opinion about the allegations.
“I think anyone who is guilty of a childhood sexual crime should be busted, so I was convinced that he was guilty even without reading anything about it,” said Holmes.
Hayes shared similar concerns but was less willing to immediately convict Dunnings.
“Well my first reaction was, question marks, because I’ve always known him to be an upstanding guy, you know, I’ve never heard anything but positive things said about him, so it was shocking to hear, and I am very, very slow to jump to conclusions,” Hayes said. “I always like to see conclusive evidence, and I like to see the system kind of play out.
“I think sometimes the trial of court opinion is taken through people, and, you know, people will sentence you before a court does, so you have to be very very careful and very leary of what you hear.”
Regardless of the final verdict, the arrest of a public official can be detrimental to relations between citizens and public officials.
“The arrests decrease public faith in the office and increases the cynicism among citizens toward both the criminal justice system and government in general,” Professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University David Carter said.
For Holmes, the allegations against Dunnings have added to her wariness of elected officials.
“There’s nothing that I can do to prevent this,” said Holmes. “There are nasty people in the world that gain positions of power and there’s little we can do about it.”
However, Hayes hasn’t noticed any negative reactions in the township. In fact, her office has not received much feedback at all in regards to the case.
“I haven’t gotten any calls directly, my office hasn’t received any calls about constituents asking questions,” Hayes said. “I think a lot of people are just reading and if you guys are in tuned on Facebook, there’s been huge discussions and debates kind of on those types of platforms. I think they’re having those conversations more outside than they are inward.”
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can play an important role in how citizens respond to these kinds of events.
“I think another byproduct of social media used by governments and political figures has been an increase in the feeling of citizens that they are able to have a greater voice in the political process,” Professor of Communication at Michigan State University Dustin Carnahan said. “These interactions convey responsiveness, which can drive up political efficacy — the idea that one’s voice actually does matter in the political process.
“While not necessarily an intended objective of social media used by governments and politicians, I think this is another way in which social media use could be considered effective.”
Regardless of anyone’s immediate reaction to Dunnings’ arrest, Hayes is looking to the future of the case and its potential effect on the township.
“I think the verdict would have a huge, huge, determining factor as to where we go from here,” Hayes said. “If we had a new person at the county, how their vision for this area would be. I mean, he’s been a prosecutor for a very, very long time, so to have somebody else come in here, you know, you don’t know what to expect until we’re actually there, so it’s very interesting to see how it plays out.
“But whomever is there, you know, I’m sure they’ll be capable, and we’ll be willing to work with them, so I don’t anticipate any negative impacts [on the township].”