Michigan township rebels after new chief beefs up police force

Barry Township residents in uproar over use of aux...Detroit Free Press – by L.L. Braiser

DELTON — Early morning May 10, Jack Nadwornik stepped behind Tujax Tavern, the bar and restaurant he has owned for 30 years in this small, western Michigan town.

Nadwornik, out drinking with friends for his 58th birthday, urinated in a corner of the empty parking lot because the bar was locked up.

Within seconds, two Barry Township police cars and three officers — two of them unpaid reserves — confronted him as he was zipping up his pants. What happened next is up for debate: Police said he resisted arrest. Nadwornick said he didn’t, and a waitress who was leaving work agreed.

What everyone does agree on is the aftermath: Nadwornik had a broken hand from a police baton, bloody elbows, and he had been kneed in the back. He was handcuffed, jailed and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, a two-year felony.

His treatment outraged many Delton residents who know Nadwornik for his food drives at local churches. They’ve packed recent township board meetings, demanding a Michigan State Police investigation.

At tonight’s regularly scheduled meeting, critics will ask township officials to fire Police Chief Victor Pierce. The meeting is expected to draw so many people that they’ve moved it to the local high school auditorium.

The ruckus has divided the once close-knit community.

“Everybody’s got an opinion,” said Joseph Barker, owner of Sajo’s Pizza Parlor, a popular eatery in downtown Delton. Barker has an opinion as well, but won’t share it. “No matter what I say, I’ll make somebody mad and lose business.”

Pierce’s critics say there have been other examples of aggressive policing lately, and question why Pierce needs nearly three dozen, non-certified reserve officers to protect a population of 3,900 with the most serious crimes generally theft and burglary.

The department also has two Humvees and two armored personnel carriers received free of charge from the U.S. Department of Defense for a township with only four full-time officers.

The Michigan Township Participating Plan, which insures the Barry department, warned in July that most of the reserve officers needed to be trained and then only used for special events.

The township has until Nov. 17 to comply, and recently suspended the reserve program, at least temporarily. The same insurance company 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.

Pierce, 56, a former Battle Creek police sergeant, recently told the township board, “I have preached a vision and the Lord put me here for a reason.”

The show of force, he told the Free Press, is necessary because of the threats of terrorism, barricaded gunmen and mass shootings.

“What I tried here was a visionary balance for the community. It wasn’t all about trying to create any kind of military machine or mind-set — nothing like that. So the numbers seem high but shortly after Sandy Hook (school shooting), I said that was the straw that broke the camel’s back … I don’t want all these things to happen, but shame on me if something did.”

Most of the 34 civilian, reserve officers — hired and personally trained by Pierce — are from outside the community. He has authorized them to carry guns and sent them out in patrol cars. They are unpaid, and many folks in the township question both their skills and their motivation.

“They’re not from around here,” said Tony Crosariol, a biochemist who moved his family from Chicago to Barry Township in 1996 because he wanted a peaceful place to live. “These reserve officers are not our friends, they are not our neighbors, their kids don’t play sports with my kids.”

Crosariol, 56, the son of a Chicago police officer, said the community is safe and that they don’t need the reserves or the military equipment.

“There’s no selection standard, no standards for training and they don’t react appropriately,” he said. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Jack was assaulted.”

The chief has supporters in the township and surrounding areas. Some say they fear methamphetamine and other illegal drug use and appreciate his tactics.

“I think Victor is doing a fine job,” said Delores Mohn, 77, a retired schoolteacher who now works as a church secretary. “He wants to do what’s right. Every citizen needs to know the laws, and if they are caught, they have to pay the price. I’m very grateful for them and have enormous respect for these officers.”

His recent offer to train and arm local teachers with handguns was rejected by the Delton Kellogg school district. But the superintendent did allow him to put reserve officers in the schools.

“We really appreciated that,” said Superintendent Paul Blacken, who has since retired. “It gave us and the parents a sense of security.”


Thomas Nolan, a professor of criminology at State University of New York, Plattsburg, and a retired Boston police lieutenant, said that other departments across the country have gone through similar and dangerous transformations.

“This is completely out of proportion to any real or perceived need and can only lead to an extremely bad result for the township residents. This community doesn’t have to worry about terrorism, and if they’ve got a barricaded gunman, they should call the Michigan State Police, who are trained for that. The last thing you want is a reserve officer in a situation like that.”

Nolan, a former senior policy adviser at the Department of Homeland Security who teaches proper police procedures, said communities like Barry Township need four to six sworn officers and should steer clear of using reserve officers for official police work. In addition to its four full-time officers, Barry Township has four part-timers.

The township is governed by a part-time, five-member board, which has the power to hire and fire police chiefs. Supervisor Wesley Kahler recently declined to discuss the ongoing dispute.

At the urging of concerned residents, the board sent a letter in June to the State Police, asking for an independent investigation into the police department and the complaints of harassment. The case has been assigned to an investigator.

The department operates out of a tiny one-room station in Delton. When a reporter and photographer arrived unannounced one morning in June, there were posters of Sylvester Stallone in the movie “Cobra,” and posters for “Lethal Weapon” and “RoboCop” on the walls. Pierce was not in.

When the Free Press returned for a scheduled interview a week later, the posters had been removed. Pierce declined to allow a Free Press photographer to take video or photos of the military vehicles kept in a garage, noting they were a source of controversy. But he defended their acquisitions.

The armored personnel carriers protect officers in the event of a barricaded gunman.

“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,” Pierce said.

But he said he plans to give the vehicles back to the federal government because the Barry County Sheriff’s Department has acquired similar vehicles.

The Humvees are used to help reach stranded residents during snowy months, Pierce said, and the reserve officers are needed to help the sworn officers.

“Backup is essential,” Pierce said. “I’ve been to a number of officers’ funerals. You don’t know what will happen in the heat of the moment.”

Many are fed up

Barry Township sits in the geographic center of a triangle formed by Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, amid a bucolic stretch of rolling hills, stands of pines, sweeping cornfields and stone farmhouses.

The area is known for its many lakes, including nearby Podunk Lake, and fabulous fishing. Many people who live here or in nearby Hastings, the county seat of Barry County, commute to the bigger cities to work but come home to the quiet countryside and small villages.

Fred Jacobs was born and raised here, and his family has owned the company that publishes the Hastings Banner, the local must-read newspaper, for 70 years.

“We don’t lock our homes here; we leave our keys in our cars,” Jacobs said in a recent interview.

Until a couple of years ago, the police in the community were a comfortable presence, providing a gentle reminder to pay attention to the rules. The township employed two or three full-time officers. Few speeding tickets were issued, residents recall. Instead, the officer would flash his lights and tell the motorist to slow down.

Jacobs remembers, as a teenager, being picked up for drinking. The officer gave him a lecture and handed him over to his parents.

But shortly after the last Barry Township police chief, Mark Kik, died in 2009, things began to change. There were more reports of teenage drivers being pulled over for minor transgressions, like dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Cars were towed even when owners offered to move them.

Resident Pattie Cheney said she was driving home around midnight from her job as a bartender in a neighboring townin August 2012 when she was pulled over by township police for expired license plate tags. She had purchased new tags the week before, but it had been raining, so she left them on her kitchen cupboard. The officers determined the tags had been purchased, but then asked her to step out of the car to do a sobriety test and take a Breathalyzer. She passed both. They then asked to search her car.

“I said, ‘This is crazy, you’re not searching my car. I want to go home.’ ”

The officers said they were bringing in a drug-sniffing dog and would not allow her to leave. More police arrived. The dog, police claimed, indicated that “maybe’’ there were drugs. They searched her car, found nothing and agreed to let her go.

“It was unbelievable,” she said.

That’s the kind of episode that infuriates residents.

“These cops came into town with a vendetta, thinking they were going to tame this town,” said longtime resident Steve Lincks, who lives in the apartment above Tujax Tavern. “This town was tamed 40 years ago.”

Constance Cheeseman, the Hastings Banner reporter who has been covering the township meetings, said people are fed up.

“I can’t help feeling that this community is appalled that the police force thinks this is a rough-and-tumble community that requires police monitoring,” she said.

‘Clean up the mess’

Despite the outpouring of criticism at township board meetings, Pierce has supporters.

Shirley Woods, 68, a retired government worker, said changing times require tougher policing.

“People aren’t disciplined the way they used to be,” he said. “We’ve been taking for granted this life we lead, but it’s changing, and Victor is here to clean up the mess.”

Don Mohn, 77, Delores’ husband, is particularly incensed that people are upset over tavern owner Nadwornik’s arrest. “What? Are people just supposed to be allowed to pee in the streets? He’s a great police chief. It’s been lax for too long.”

The community is watching what happens in the Nadwornik case.

Pierce called the incident “unfortunate,” but added, “All I can say is that a warrant has been authorized and he will get his day in court.”

Nadwornik, whose next court date is Wednesday, said he’s dismayed by what happened.

“I was astonished that this could happen here.”

Contact L.L. Brasier: 248-858-2262 or lbrasier@freepress.com


2 thoughts on “Michigan township rebels after new chief beefs up police force

  1. “Pierce, 56, a former Battle Creek police sergeant, recently told the township board, “I have preached a vision and the Lord put me here for a reason.””

    Hmmmm. I would really love to read this guys psych profile. Sounds like a very real threat to this community to me.

  2. Typical A21, NWO brainwashed threat (as former poster indicates)
    Spewing his UN talk about his “vision”-
    The scary part is combining his UN gov-speak “vision” with his demented understanding of God.

    Bringing “reserves” from “other” areas is an example of MJTF (Multi Jurisdictional Task Force).

    Good for the residents- get the dirtbag out!

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