At one point, Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut leaned back in his chair and said "Wow."
A court hearing today looking into irregularities with a recall petition against Flint’s mayor seemed to produce more questions about the Flint Police Department.
A series of witnesses testified they had signed the petition to recall Flint Mayor Karen Weaver. About half said they didn’t date their signature, though someone had written the date in. Weaver’s attorney argues that makes the signature invalid.
The mayor’s attorney needs to convince the judge to drop 121 signatures from the petition. That would leave the recall campaign short and cancel the November recall election.
However, much of the hearing focused on a suggestion of possible police intimidation. There were also allegations a top city official offered favors to petition circulators if they stopped collecting signatures.
Several witnesses talked about how they had been approached by Flint police officers, often at their homes, asking if they had signed the petition.
Tearing up as she sat in the witness chair, petition circulator LaKeishia Williams testified that she felt “threatened” after police officers came to her home.
“Why would the police be looking for me?” Williams told the court, “It scared me.”
Petition signer Tanesha Breedlove testified police officers had come to her home too. She also says a police officer called her repeatedly in the last day telling her to be in court today. She says the officer called her at 1 p.m. yesterday, then again around 7:30 p.m. last night and again at 8 a.m. this morning.
Celeste Bell is Genesee County Corporation Counsel. She’s representing the county clerk’s office. Bell stops short of calling it police intimidation.
“I would agree that it is unusual,” Bell said, “I mean the city police could be conducting an investigation. But in this context it did not sound like that was what they were doing.”
Mayor Weaver’s attorney Kendall Williams says he is unaware police officers were contacting his witnesses, telling them to appear in court today.
“I didn’t know anything about that,” says Williams, “No arms were twisted.”
The Flint police department has been conducting an investigation for several months into the recall petition. There have been allegations that petition circulators misled Flint residents into signing the petition, by claiming the petition was for a different issue.
In the past, the police department’s spokesman declined to comment on an “ongoing investigation.” The spokesman has not responded to today’s allegations of possible police intimidation.
Two witnesses testified Flint City Administrator Sylvester Jones offered to help them settle some issues with the city. But only if they stopped collecting signatures on the recall petition.
Mayor Karen Weaver’s office issued a statement today saying "the allegations are completely false. No one was ever told that."
Judge Neithercut is giving the attorneys in the recall petition case until next Tuesday to submit briefs to his office. The judge may decide next week whether to permit the recall to take place in November.