MICHIGAN — A Grand Traverse county commissioner will be facing a lawsuit in the coming days for his behavior during a virtual public meeting in January.
“What I can tell you is that this 74-year-old single woman didn’t ask to be put into this position,” said the woman’s attorney Blake Ringsmuth of Ringsmuth Wuori LLC. “She was simply exercising her right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution when a county commissioner who apparently didn’t appreciate her speech decided to leave the camera and go and grab an AR-15 gun and display it in a threatening manner.”
That county commissioner was Ron Clous. Ringsmuth said his client, whom he’s referring to as Jane Doe to conceal her identity, was asking the commission to denounce the violence and extremism taking place across the country, in particular the chaos that happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That's when Clous stood up from his seat during the virtual meeting, walked away and returned seconds later.
“Mr. Clous did not have a gun with him at the beginning of this meeting. He went and got a gun in response to my client’s First Amendment exercise of free speech,” Ringsmuth reiterated during a Zoom interview Friday afternoon. “In response to her question, her plea to denounce the violence that was happening in our state and in our country, he chose to go and get an AR-15 and display it to her in a threatening manner with a smirk on his face, and to add insult to injury, the chairman laughed.”
The video of the meeting shows Chair Rob Hentschel laughing in the upper left-hand corner. Since then, many community members and commissioners have called for their resignations, he said. More than 1,500 people have signed a petition calling for both to step down.
Ringsmuth said many in the community have supported Jane Doe but not everyone.
“She received threatening phone calls late at night from folks,” Ringsmuth said. “I can’t speak to their mindset; all I can tell you is that it’s been very disquieting, very traumatic and she lives in fear, and that’s unfortunate.”
So, Jane Doe and Ringsmuth will be filing a lawsuit on Monday in federal court for constitutional violations. The lawsuit also alleges “terrorizing and inflicting emotional trauma” on the woman.
FOX 17 reached out to all the commissioners, including Clous, to get their perspective. So far, Commissioner Darryl Nelson has responded. He said in a statement:
“I understand from media reports that there is a forthcoming lawsuit on this matter. At this point this becomes a legal issue, and not really for the board of commissioners to manage. I intend to fully cooperate with any requests from the court. But, I am going to stay in my lane and not comment on something that is not a matter before the board.”
FOX 17 is waiting to hear back from Clous and others.
Ringsmuth said the lawsuit will be filed on Monday in federal court. The following day, there will be a press conference.
He emphasized that it’s not about gun rights. It’s about First Amendment rights.
“We are going to be asking the court to issue an injunction, an order saying, ‘No, this is unconstitutional and it has no place in our democratic government,’” Ringsmuth said. “Finally we want, my client wants, and all those that have supported her through this very difficult time, want the world and the rest of the country to know that the Grand Traverse area does not support this behavior.”