Small-Town Praetorianism: Barry Township Rejects Victor Pierce's Authoritarian "Vision"by William Norman Grigg
Victor Pierce bears a resemblance to notorious death-cult leader Jim Jones, which is a tragic accident of nature. He also deeply imbibed the authoritarian Kool-Aid ladled out by the Homeland Security State, and force-fed it to the residents of Barry Township, Michigan, the tiny and unfortunate village where Pierce was employed as Chief of Police.
Like the Rev. Jones, Pierce demanded that everyone within the area of his claimed authority partake of the divinely inspired vision he has received.
“I have preached a vision,” Pierce declares, “and the Lord put me here for a reason.”
To be more specific, Pierce was providentially deposited in Barry Township to steel its torpid citizenry against the day when Jihadists, school shooters, drug lords, and perhaps even killer robots descend upon the village in an outpouring of apocalyptic fury. Sure, this hasn’t happened – but it could happen, in the same sense that a convergence of atmospheric anomalies could cause the skies to rain artichokes.
Pierce will have to preach his vision in a different part of the vineyard: On August 7, he resigned from his post in response to a peaceful uprising from the ungrateful citizens of the township, which is now looking for another police chief. They would be much better off disbanding the entire department and liquidating its assets, which include combat-grade vehicles provided by the Pentagon.
Like many other police chiefs drawing paychecks in irenic little towns across the nation – Ken Geddes, the stalwart sentinel protecting Preston, Idaho, comes to mind – Pierce liked to pretend that his placid resort town nestles against a slumbering Vesuvius of violence: “We don’t just walk in and say this is Mayberry, so nothing is going to happen in Mayberry. That’s how officers get killed…. I’ve been to a number of officers’ funerals, you don’t know what will happen in the heat of the moment.”
Pierce, who adorned the walls of his office with posters for 1980s-vintage action films like “Lethal Weapon,” “RoboCop,” and “Cobra,” cast himself in the role of the heroic outsider determined to take the risks and make the tough calls necessary to defeat an implacable enemy. Barry Township allowed him to indulge his vibrant fantasy life at taxpayer expense in a risk-free environment.
The township is a “bedroom community” of about 3,700 people where crime is all but unknown and the police department – as far as official reports attest – has never solved a case.
Yet the BTPD, which has four full-time officers and operates out of a one-room headquarters in nearby Delton, was provided with four armored vehicles (including two APCs) through the Pentagon’s 1033 program. As part of what Pierce calls a “visionary balance for the community,” the chief trained and recruited a “reserve force” of nearly 40 officers, none of whom is a state-certified peace officer (a status regarded as important by people who believe the state can license people to carry out aggressive violence).
Pierce enjoyed thirty years of reasonably stress-free employment with the Battle Creek Police Department before replacing former BTPD Chief Marshall Kik, who met a violent end – by his own hand.
Five years ago, Barry County Sheriff’s deputies found Kik’s lifeless body outside the BTPD station. The deputies, responding to a request from a 911 dispatcher for a welfare check on the chief, discovered that he had killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot. An investigation by the Barry Township Council discovered that the chief had maintained a secret checking account into which he illegally deposited the proceeds from vehicle inspection fees.
The Hastings Banner, a local weekly that is one of the few newspapers in the country that actively investigates municipal corruption, reports that nearly $130,000 was paid out of that account over the course of three years. All of the checks were signed by Kik, including one for nearly $20,000. The Township Board, while insisting that “the great majority of funds placed in this account were expended for valid police purposes,” admits that “the keeping of such an unauthorized and undisclosed bank account by Police Chief Kik was improper.”
At the time of his suicide, Kik – who had been chief for nearly 30 years – had turned over his administrative responsibilities to another officer named Chris Martin. The official story was that he was on “medical leave,” a claim difficult to sustain in light of subsequent disclosures.
A source with knowledge of secretive dealings between Kik and the Township board told the Banner that the chief had been quietly demoted because he “had not submitted some reports properly.” If the paperwork was not completed and turned in by June 1, 2009, the board would convene a meeting “to discuss disciplinary actions.” Only one of the necessary reports had been completed prior to Kik’s suicide.
The source reported to the Banner that “Kik had left a note for his fellow officers” discussing concerns that the department would be shut down, and that the township would enter into a contract with the Barry County Sheriff’s Office.
“Don’t let the sheriff take over the police department,” Kik reportedly exhorted his colleagues in his suicide note. “He is trying.”
Then-Sheriff Dar Leaf acknowledged that he had offered to provide coverage to Barry Township, as he had others in the county, but denied that he was trying to take over for the BTPD because the village “can’t afford the sheriff’s services.” Nor was it in need of government law enforcement “services” of any kind.
At the time of his death, Kik was the township’s sole full-time police officer. Given the near-absence of crime apart from Kik’s embezzlement scheme, Barry Township not only couldn’t afford a police department, but would have been better off without one.
Rather than shutting down the BTPD station and discharging the reserve officers, the township hired Pierce in late 2009. Pierce, who at the time was 51, assumed the office of chief in Barry Township practically the same day that he began collecting his pension from Battle Creek.
Many men, upon reaching a certain age, seek to hold “the subtle thief of youth” at bay by undergoing cosmetic surgery. Others buy motorcycles. Some who retain their marketability may have extra-marital affairs. Pierce, whose unevenly – and unconvincingly -- dark coiffure testifies to his vanity, decided to create a fantasy camp for over-aged adolescents who wanted to play the role of costumed badasses. Thus he created a corps of unpaid and untrained “reserve officers” drawn from other cities as distant as Kalamazoo.
This kind of thing is harmless fun, until it isn’t. The fun ended early in the morning on May 10, when two of Pierce’s cosplaying volunteers took part in the gang beating of local businessman Jack Nadwornik, the owner of Tujax Tavern and a member of the county planning commission.
Nadwornik, who was celebrating his 58th birthday, had just closed his bar and – given that the streets were vacant and nature’s call was compelling – relieved himself in the corner of an empty parking lot next to his business. Within seconds two BTPD vehicles were on the scene, disgorging one full-time officer and two fanboys in full costume. Within a few minutes Nadwornik’s hand was broken, his body was covered with bruises inflicted with a club, and he was facing a felony charge that carries a two-year prison sentence.
The assailants claimed that the victim “resisted” their attack, as he has every right to. The only objective eyewitness to the event insists that the cops – including the two role-playing wannabes – lied about the incident, as cops are trained to. The incident catalyzed what had previously been inchoate concerns over Pierce’s empire-building.
Earlier this year the Michigan State Police was asked to investigate complaints against Pierce and his police force. Their preliminary report concluded that there was no evidence of criminal conduct, and that predictable finding allowed Pierce to claim vindication. Most of his “customers,” however, remain dissatisfied. Many residents have complained about contrived traffic stops that have grown into opportunistic searches – one of which involved thirteen officers (most of whom were reservists), a drug-sniffing dog, and the hours-long detention of a weary woman who was simply trying to get home from work.
At a public meeting earlier this week that was attended by practically everyone in Barry Township, citizens demanding that Pierce be fired submitted a petition containing one thousand signatures. The Town Council has yet to act on that demand. However, the 34-member reserve corps was suspended at the request of the Michigan Township Participating Plan, which insures the PTPD.
Victor Pierce is not the only small-town police chief in Michigan seeking to build an empire with the help of uncertified “reserve officers.”
Earlier this year, reports the Michigan Free Press, the sate Township Participating Plan “canceled its coverage this year for Oakley, a village in Saginaw County, after the police chief there brought in 100 unpaid and uncertified auxiliary officers, some from as far away as metro Detroit, to patrol a town of 290.” Another insurance carrier moved to fill that vacancy, however, which means that there will be no discontinuity in the valuable services its police department provides – which allegedly include retaliating against the employer of a local woman who rejected the unwanted advances of police chief Robert Reznick.
After Aileen Gengler complained to her boss, Dennis Bitterman, about Reznick’s behavior, the tavern owner contacted the chief and asked him to lay off his waitress. According to a lawsuit filed by Bitterman, the chief “exploded in anger” and used his reserve officers to scrutinize the tavern owner’s business. Bitterman and his wife say that “aggressive” patrols of their establishment have cost them customers.
Four subsequent lawsuits have been filed by the Bitterman family, all of them dealing primarily with refusals by the village council and police department to comply with laws governing open meetings and freedom of information requests. Among the details withheld by the police department were the names of its reserve officers – which means that the reserves are, by strict definition, a secret police force in a flyspeck-sized community with no documented criminal activity.
It was the number and frequency of the lawsuits that led to the decision by the Township Participating Plan to withdraw coverage from Oakley. Scores of Oakley residents have carried out public protests demanding that Resnick be fired. As was the case in Barry Township, the municipal government has ignored the objections of the public it supposedly serves.
In this case, the chief was given a vote of support by the village council, and his “reserve” program continues to operate – and as is the case elsewhere in the state, the reserve officers are not subject to official oversight by anyone other than their police chief.
Pierce's job seemed secure because of support from the local punitive populist demographic, which is composed primarily of retirement-age Fox News consumers and employees of the government school system.
According to Delton resident Jim Cook, the chief “has basically started a scare campaign within the … church, senior community, and school system…. Using Sandy Hook, al-Qaeda, and `Jesus told you’ as [his] primary campaign…. [He has] convinced a small group of people that without [him] and [his] posse, they will not be able to walk the town without the risk of being raped, kidnaped, molested, or killed.”
The same strategy –preaching civic redemption through the imposition of a garrison state – was used by Chief Todd Stovall in Paragould, Arkansas. In December 2012, Stovall, who had created a large corps of “reserve officers,” announced his intention to place the tiny city under martial law.
Although Paragould has a high burglary rate, violent crime is all but non-existent there. But like Victor Pierce, Todd Stovall considers himself a visionary ordained by Providence to head off the apocalypse.
“We’re going to do it to everybody,” the chief insisted. “Criminals don’t like being talked to” by the police.
The same is true of any individual possessing a particle of self-respect, of course.
“The fear is what’s given us the reason to do this,” insisted Stovall as he announced that he was going to deploy officers “in SWAT gear [with] AR-15s around their [sic] neck.” During a town hall meeting at the West View Baptist Church, Stovall explained that “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID…. I’ve got statistical reasons that say I’ve got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you’re doing out.”
Stovall appears to be the sort of person who has never owned a library card, which is why his understanding of “probable cause” appears limited to a phrase or two he heard while watching television. He has a more comprehensive understanding of the key law enforcement concept, “officer safety,” and an instinctive ability to recognize a public relations disaster. Accordingly, in early 2013 he discontinued a series of town hall meetings that were planned to unveil his martial law program, citing “public safety concerns.”
The only discernible threat to public safety was that posed by Stovall’s little Praetorian Guard, which includes an officer who was held personally liable for assaulting a suspect named Jacob Thomas Earls, and several others who were rebuked by lying in court and falsifying records concerning that crime.
“My officers didn’t lie,” grunted Stovall when asked why he hadn’t discharged them from his force after their lies had become an indelible – and expensive -- part of the town’s legal history.
Wherever a police department exists, the seeds of a gestapo have been planted. Tiny towns across the country are afflicted with police chiefs who see themselves as heroic men of destiny, and no police department is so small that the Pentagon will turn down its request for battlefield-grade weapons and vehicles – thereby inviting the involvement of the kind of people who will help those malignant seeds blossom. Outraged residents of Barry Township have trimmed away one of the branches; now they need to strike at the root.
William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program. Follow him on Twitter.
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