Isolated or Part of A Pattern?

By  | 

Strong prayer blended with strong opinions at a forum on the incident involving Eaton County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Lutz. The topic: What does the incident mean for mid-Michigan's black community?

The forum, sponsored by the Pastors Conference of Greater Lansing, began with a brief discussion of the specifics of the incident. Lutz reported being shot March 20. He said a black man was the shooter. Then this week: Word that prosecutors belief Lutz shot himself, and invented the suspect.

Discussion quickly evolved into debate not just about Lutz -- but about the Eaton County Sherriff's Department. Tammy Sims, who lives in Delta Township, says the department targets black residents for traffic stops -- including her husband.

"Several times. Over silly stuff. Cars searched ... for no reason," Sims said.

Sims says blacks are treated as outsiders in the community by the sheriff's department.

"When is justice going to be done? This is ridiculous. We are black people. We live in Eaton County. We are here to stay," she said.

Not everyone at the forum sees this as a widespread problem.

"We know that (Sergeant) Lutz was wrong. But (Sergeant) Lutz had a problem," one attendee said.

Former Eaton County Sheriff Rick Jones also sees the Lutz incident as an isolated one. He now represents most of the county in the state House of Representatives. And he bristles at the suggestion that his former department is racist.

"There is no racial profiling at the Eaton County Sheriff's office. There never has been. I don't believe there is now," Rep. Jones (R - Grand Ledge) said.

Jones served in the department for 31 years -- and he was still sheriff at the time Lutz was involved in a November 2004 shooting at the Red Robin restaurant on W. Saginaw Highway in Delta Township. Lutz's attorneys claim the sheriff's sergeant's mental state has been shaky ever since. But Jones says -- Lutz received the proper treatment.

"The man got assistance. He was declared mentally fit to return to duty. And wasn't showing any problems," Jones said.

But what will come of the incident -- and the discussion?

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights was taking in the testimony at the forum, making a state investigation a possibility.

And the pastors say they'll share the citizen concerns when they meet with Eaton County Undersheriff Fred McPhail next week.

-- in Lansing, Tony Tagliavia, News 10.