Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hold the Onions, Please...

Back in February I wrote about Steve Hartsel, the city manager of Hudson, Michigan and his head on collision with the Hudson Machine.  You can read about the particulars here:If You Don't Stop It, You'll Go Blind!, but the long and short of it (pun intended) is that a spiteful, lying bitch on a stick accused Steve of pulling his pud in public.  The case finally went to trial and on September 15, the jury returned a verdict.

The whole thing started when Steve fired Fire Chief Brian Gerig for insubordination, and city council upheld the dismissal. It turns out that Hudson isn't much different than Chicago in many ways, and Gerig was connected - he had friends in Adrian, Michigan.  This led to an accusation and a lot of chicanery on the part of small town government and equally small minded media who seemed intent on giving Steve a fair trial and a fine hanging.  The only trouble was, Steve hadn't committed a crime - but maybe that could be fixed.  So it begins...

Hudson City Manager Accused of Exposing Himself to Female Motorist Heading to Trial
Hartsel initially told police he had a sandwich in his lap, though later he admitted he was masturbating.
Which is, at best, an exaggeration.  At worst, an outright falsehood.  When Adrian Michigan Police Officer Walt Fischoff interviewed Steve Hartsel, Walt assured Steve that the complainant wanted an apology, and if Steve would tender same the whole thing would vanish.  What Steve did was foolishly act like a wise guy when he was dealing with the police, who coincidentally failed to record the interview.  This is never a good idea, and an even worse idea when you're being accused of a crime.  Officer Fischoff did, in fact, call Steve back and told him that the entire business had gone the way of the passenger pigeon - which it hadn't.

The trial was postponed twice, during which time Steve was informed that if he continued to fight this charge the prosecutor would take this crime against humanity to a whole new level and charge Steve with a felony.  When Steve's attorney started to fold, Steve obtained new a new attorney from Detroit, one who specialized in criminal law, had a good track record and who was willing to take the case.  Harold Fried of Fried, Saperstein and Abbatt teamed up with distinguished oratory lawyer Joseph Niskar and told the Persecutor Prosecutor to bring it and pack a lunch.

Reading the local bird cage liner, everyone learns a carefully slanted portion of the real story.

Hudson City Manager To Face Jury in Indecent Exposure Case
No further adjournments are expected in the case that began with Hartsel being charged in January. Adrian police sought a warrant after a woman reported seeing him masturbating while driving a van on on South Main Street near Beecher Street in Adrian on Dec. 22. Trials scheduled in May and June were adjourned. The case is before Judge James E. Sheridan.
The Hudson city council put off a review of the issue and potential disciplinary action until the criminal prosecution is completed.
Note the omission of the word 'alleged'.  The woman, name withheld for now, didn't allegedly see him, she reported seeing him.  The smart money here is the Hudson city council, who refused to act until the jury was in and the fat lady finished her number.  Had they jumped on the band wagon to railroad Steve they would be risking a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal, which probably didn't bother one or two of the council members, but the others were a little more cautious.  Of course, maybe they knew something the paper isn't writing about.  The fanfare continues with minimal coverage of the trial and maximum coverage of the real truth - thoroughly covered in mud slung by the bird cage liner.

Hudson City Manager Steve Hartsel Trial On Indecent Exposure Charge Begins

The trial began nearly nine months after the complaint of sexual misbehavior on Adrian's South Main Street. Assistant Lenawee County Prosecutor Burke Castleberry told jurors the witness and police confession are overwhelming evidence.
“There's only one logical conclusion here, he's guilty as charged,” Castleberry said in opening statements.
Castleberry is whistling past the graveyard and he knows it.  What the paper didn't print is that Castleberry showed a lot of enthusiasm and vitriolic behavior while prosecuting this case.  Maybe Castleberry had motivations outside the normal scope of his office.
The witness, Sue Sellers, told the jury she has no doubts about what she saw the afternoon of Dec. 22. She said she stopped for a red light on South Main Street at Beecher Street and happened to glance from her pickup into a van stopped in the lane on her right.
“I couldn't believe what I saw. I looked over and I saw a man with his penis in his hand,” she testified. She glanced over at least five times, she said, going from feelings of shock to anger.
Finally the mysterious witness to the dirty deed is named.  One question I immediately had concerned any connection between Sue Sellers and the ex-fire chief, Brian Gerig.  As it turns out, Sellers is connected to the machine.  That is, if you believe the local scandal sheet.
Sellers was administrative assistant to the Tecumseh city manager until her retirement in April this year.
Well now, imagine that!  Sellers was the admin. ass. in nearby Tecumseh.  Maybe a little more interesting is that, to the best of my knowledge, Sue Sellers has a tenuous connection to Brian Gerig, that Sellers quietly retired in April of 2011 and lost no time in relocating to Texas with her live in boyfriend.

Another thing that puzzled me about this case was the line of sight involved.  Imagine that you're in the driver's seat of a Ford F-150 and you're stopped at a light.  A minivan pulls up on your right.  How is it possible to see the driver's lap?  The real answer is that it isn't possible.  I know it, and anyone who doubts me is welcome to line up the vehicles and see (or not) for themselves.  As obvious as this is, the judge refused to allow the defense to present this evidence at the trial, calling it mere speculation.  It isn't speculation, it's simple physics.

Even without this crucial piece of evidence, the defense was able to rely on inconsistencies in the testimony of the key witnesses, Sue Sellers and Walt Fischoff, along with the testimony of Steve Hartsel who took the stand in his own defense.  Another interesting point is that judge James E. Sheridan informed the defense that they would only have 15 minutes for a closing argument instead of the usual 30 minutes, and Sheridan did this just before attorney Joseph Niskar presented his closing arguments.  The jury returned a verdict of not guilty in two hours.  However, look at the headline from the local scandal sheet.  Steve isn't innocent, he isn't not guilty; he's acquitted.

Hudson City Manager Acquitted Of Indecent Exposure Charge
Jurors deliberated less than two hours before returning the verdict in Lenawee County District Court where Hartsel's trial began Tuesday.
“We’re ecstatic that the jury has agreed he's not guilty,” said attorney Joseph Niskar of Detroit. “Hopefully this will be the first day of his new life and he will get his reputation back.”
Niskar said the jury agreed the witness who accused him was wrong.
“She either made a mistake or she lied,” Niskar said. “She did not see Mr. Hartsel exposing himself.”
Hartsel also testified Thursday morning that an Adrian police officer who interviewed him on Dec. 22 was mistaken in believing he had admitted the offense.
Joseph Niskar said it best, but in my opinion Sue Sellers lied.  She lied, and once she started down that road there wasn't any way for her to duck out of the legal implications and change her mind.  Unfortunately, Steve didn't see the freight train coming.  However, once it was clear that he was being railroaded he reacted with a great deal more competence and decisiveness than the opposition expected.  Which naturally begs the question about just who the 'they' are that would railroad Steve onto death row if they had the chance.  Do I think there is a conspiracy involving the players here, Judge James E. Sheridan, Assistant Lenawee County Prosecutor Burke Castleberry, Adrian Michigan Chief of Police Terrence B. Collins, Sue Sellers and Adrian Michigan Police Officer Walt Fischoff along with a host of others?  You bet.  Can any of it be proven?  Hell no.  At least, not all of it.  My hope is that the F.B.I. or the D.O.J. will get involved and investigate the blatant inconsistencies in this case, and then, even given the fossilized speed of the wheels of justice, the guilty will be successfully persecuted and thrown under the steamroller where they belong.

The real fallout from this fiasco is that it brought a portion of this local machine into the one thing that can't be tolerated - the light of day.  Now that Steve knows he's made political enemies who are as unscrupulous as they are vindictive, he'll conduct himself accordingly.

My congratulations to Steve Hartsel and to his attorneys Joseph Niskar and Harold Fried of the law firm Fried Saperstein Abbatt.


Sondra Metts said...

Brilliantly written. I live in a neighboring rural town, and this case with Steve Hartsel is sadly not in isolation. While not all are governed in this manner - "Small town mentality" is coined for this very reason. Reputations and careers are ruined by petty vendettas and community residents accepting slander at face value without research or at the very least, common sense.

Mad Jack said...

Thank you Sondra. I'm happy to say that Steve is doing well these days.