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Tucker released from confinement

Ethan Tucker, a U.S. Coast Guardsman from Ludington facing a murder trial in the military justice system, will go through a second Article 32 hearing that his attorney called “extraordinarily unusual.”

Tucker was ordered released from confinement on Monday by the U.S. Coast Guard Director of Operational Logistics, according to his attorney, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Justin Henderson. NyxoLyno Cangemi, the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area’s assistant public affairs officer, confirmed Tucker’s release to the Daily News.

Tucker, 21, was held in the San Diego area on charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, maiming, obstructing justice, issuing false official statements and failing to obey an order or regulation.

The charges are from the death of Ethan Kelch of Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Jan. 26, when the Douglas Munro — the ship both men were serving aboard — was docked in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Kelch was found dead Jan. 27.

Henderson said the 2017 Ludington High School graduate had two charges — aggravated assault and maiming — dismissed by the convening authority who would have heard the court martial, and the convening authority directed officials to reopen the Article 32 preliminary hearing for Dec. 3.

Then, on Monday, Tucker was ordered released from confinement from U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Melvin W. Bouboulis, director of operational logistics. Bouboulis wrote in his order that Tucker must be restricted to closely defined areas at Base Alameda in California, “including limitations on the use of computers and cell phones, a prohibition on the use of alcohol and periodic muster.”

That leaves Tucker free to serve until his reopened Article 32 hearing.

“(Friday) night, the convening authority dismissed two charges and then directed that the Article 32 preliminary hearing be reopened to examine a different charging theory with modified charges,” Henderson wrote to the Daily News via email. “This is extraordinarily unusual. It also disregards and compounds the prejudice of keeping Ethan wrongly locked up ahead of trial.”

The revised charging document changed the narrative of the incident as filed on Friday. Instead of Tucker allegedly placing Kelch in the water and leaving him there under the murder charges, it states that Tucker only left Kelch in the water that night. Also, instead of Tucker allegedly causing blunt force trauma to the head of Kelch, Tucker is alleged to have “unlawfully (struck)… Kelch on the head and body with his hands and (left) him in the water.”

The aggravated assault charge also was revised to assault consummated by battery and indicates that Tucker allegedly unlawfully struck Kelch.

Plus, a mention of Seaman Trevin Hunter — who filmed the incident and placed it on Snapchat — was removed from the charge of obstruction of justice.

“I guess also, since his name is crossed off, the government now understands that (Seaman) Tucker never had any reason to believe there would be charges against Hunter?” Henderson asked.

Henderson told the Daily News previously that about 13 10-second videos allegedly filmed by Hunter were placed on Snapchat. Henderson described the videos last month as indications that both Tucker and Hunter were attempting to help Kelch, not harm him.

Cangemi told the Daily News that the charges “are dynamic.”

“They are always subject to amendments and changes,” he said.

Confinement concludes

Henderson had been fighting to get Tucker released, saying he should not be held or confined. The U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that he should be released in its analysis, but not in an order, because Tucker’s legal team did not request his release under what is called Article 138 from the confining officer initially.

Tucker was confined through Monday as Henderson sought his release under Article 138. The request for release was denied by the Alameda base’s commanding officer on Nov. 1, according to Henderson, and it was passed up the chain of command for consideration.

“We pointed out (again) the same erroneous legal reasoning the appeals court noted (for continued confinement),” Henderson said.

The appeals court stated in its analysis of continued confinement dated Oct. 18 that although the charges Tucker faces show violence “does not, of itself, make an accused (person) a serious threat to the safety of the community.”

The court also stated that neither the commanding officer nor the initial review officer (IRO) should have taken into consideration letters filed to keep Tucker confined.

“Three of them clearly seek punishment for (Tucker’s) alleged offenses, which is prohibited at this stage,” the court stated. “If the IRO’s or commanding officer’s determinations relied on those letters, such reliance was inappropriate.”

The appeals for Tucker’s confinement were sent to the U.S. Coast Guard’s station in Alameda, California, because Tucker was transferred from the Douglas Munro in June to the base. It was from the Alameda base that Tucker was taken into custody to face the allegations.

His confinement changed on Monday.

“I anticipate all future proceedings will be at Coast Guard Base Alameda, (California),” Henderson said.

Cangemi verified that the proceedings will continue at Alameda. Cangemi also said that Tucker’s role on the base would be with base logistics.

“Anything the base needs (such as) stage set up, setting up chairs, working in the mail room — anything that need to be done on base,” he said.

Tucker was previously working in base security at Alameda before his confinement.

WSCC board tables hiring architect for Manistee building

SCOTTVILLE — The West Shore Community College (WSCC) Board of Trustees on Monday voted 5-2 to table the discussion of hiring Kendra Thompson as the architect for its planned Manistee Downtown Education Center.

WSCC President Scott Ward proposed hiring Thompson, since she has already been doing “pro bono” work, creating conceptual renderings and engineering designs for the project. He said his administration engaged with her to start design and engineering work this fall after the board approved purchasing the former Glik’s building at 400 River St. in downtown Manistee for the purpose of remodeling it to create a WSCC satellite campus.

Ward called this error an “oversight” by WSCC administration, and he sought the board’s formal approval for Thompson to be hired as the architect during the board’s off-campus meeting held at Mason County Central Upper Elementary School on Monday evening.

“I do think her fee is right in the ballpark, actually at the low end of architectural fees from what we’ve dealt with,” Ward said. “And I do believe she is the right fit (due to) her experience with the historic district, knowledge of the community and knowledge of that building itself.”

The proposed contract was for Thompson’s architecture firm to be paid up to $240,000, which is 6 percent of the estimated project fees. Ward called $240,000 a high-end estimate, and noted that if the final cost of the project is less, then Thompson’s pay would be 6 percent of that lesser price.

Based on the preliminary estimate, the total project cost would be $3.2 million. The college would pay $2.2 million from its funds, and an anonymous donor has pledged an added $1 million for the project, according to Ward. Remodeling the two-story, approximately 13,000-square-foot building in downtown Manistee is the board’s No. 1 priority in its facilities master plan.

Chair Bruce Smith called for a motion to table the talk of hiring Thompson until the trustees’ meeting in December, after the board heard concerns raised by members Richard Wilson and Dr. Anthony Fabaz that there was a lack of information about the proposed contract.

Smith asked that all the necessary information be reviewed at the committee level before the matter returns to the board for consideration again next meeting.

“I’d like this information brought through the administrative committee, and let them review everything, including everything else they think we may need in conjunction with moving this project forward,” Smith said.

Wilson said it was unclear what specific services Thompson would provide for the project. He asked if she would only do the design and engineering for the building or if she’d do that and the construction management. Wilson said the college could instead find a general contractor that would handle the design, engineering and management.

“I’d really like to see what the proposal is from Kendra in terms of the scope of her services,” Wilson said.

Ward replied that it was his idea that the college could hire a separate construction management company to oversee that element of the project, which is to ensure that the construction contractors follow the architect’s designs. Ward said that is how WSCC had its renovation and addition project at its Tech Center managed.

“It’s no different from the Tech Center project that we just finished,” Ward said.

Fabaz questioned whether paying Thompson 6 percent for just the design and engineering services and not the construction management is “still an equitable percent.” He voiced his concerns about having to pay an additional company another 4 percent, for example, so the total cost for design, engineering and management could be 10 percent.

“This seems like a lot to me for just the design,” Fabaz said, and he emphasized the importance of having a good construction manager on-site overseeing the project.

Ward did not have a number ready for how much he thought hiring a construction management company would cost, but he did mention 9 percent as a potential total number.

The two trustees who voted against tabling the decision about whether or not to hire Thompson were James Barker and Sherry Wyman. Neither of them said why.

Moody Monday morning

A calm, gray day with temperatures hovering above zero allowed snow to melt and for the water to be still. The fish tug Eagle sits along the wall in Pere Marquette Lake west of Washington Avenue. The calm morning led to mirror-like conditions along portions of the area’s lakefronts. A portion of the Pere Pointe Village condos reflect on the surface of Pere Marquette Lake as seen from the Copeyon Park boat launch Monday morning.

Steve Begnoche photos

Angel Tree program to be offered to Mason County inmates

Angel Tree program

to be offered to Mason County inmates

The reorganized Oceana/Mason County Jail Ministries (OMCJM) will distribute donations for its Angel Tree programs at two locations on Saturday, Dec. 21.

Angel Tree provides a gift, a Bible and a personal message of love to children on behalf of their incarcerated parent at Christmas. The success of the annual program is dependent on the participation of churches and families to adopt a child or family and shop for the gifts requested for the children by the inmate parents.

The Angel Tree Program offered in the Oceana County Jail for the past 20-plus years will be available this year to Mason County Jail inmates and their families. Distribution centers will be set up in Mason and Oceana counties on Dec. 21 for families to pick up gifts and food baskets at a Christmas Party.

The Mason County distribution will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Cornerstone Baptist Church. In Oceana County, families can come to Hart Wesleyan Church from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Help is needed at the Christmas Party to register families, serve refreshments and distribute the gifts and food baskets.

In 2018, the Oceana County Angel Tree Program reached 73 children and 30 families, including 26 children of prisoners from Oceana County in the state prison system. By including the Mason County Jail, the 2019 projection is 80 to 100 children and 45 families, at an estimated cost of $3,000 to $3,500 for the two jails and the prison system.

Financial support for the annual Angel Tree Program has come from local churches, individuals, businesses and the 2019 worship services at Ludington State Park. A donation of $30 will “adopt a child” for the holidays. Tax-deductible checks can be written to OMCJM and sent to OMCJM, P.O. Box 807, Hart, MI 49420.

The active members of the OMCJM include several volunteer chaplains and pastors who go into the two local jails on a weekly basis. Services provided to inmates include Bibles, Bible studies, small group worship/studies, one-on-one mentoring, Christian literature, book lending library, and a prayer-chain connection.

Family services include Angel Tree Program and Summer Camp Scholarships. With the expansion of OMCJM ministries to Mason County, board members and workers are needed to provide jail and public worship/mentoring ministries in the two counties. Further information about Angel Tree or OMCJM services can be obtained by contacting Chaplain Jerry Thorne at (231)425-3693 or jerrythorne@charter.net.

Scottville halts agreement with Optimist

SCOTTVILLE — Plans for the Scottville Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to lease the Optimist grounds hit a snag on Monday, when several city commissioners and the city attorney expressed concerns about the financial feasibility of the purchase.

The plan was for the Green Street property to be used for the development of a community park, and for the city to purchase and renovate the adjacent Optimist Club building and Scottville Clown Band Shell.

The planned Scottville Optimist Park is set to include a sculpture commemorating the Scottville Clown Band. The project also calls for improvements and renovations to the Optimist building, and to the band shell.

Despite a unanimous decision from the DDA on Thursday to approve a five-year lease agreement with the Optimists, city commissioners decided the financial risks were too great to sign the lease as it was written.

The lease — which would have cost the city $1,200 a month for five years with an option to purchase at any point during that time for just shy of $50,000 — contained stipulations that troubled several of the commissioners, as well as Mayor Bruce Krieger.

The Scottville Clown Band would have “stepped up” to make those monthly payments, according to City Manager Courtney Magaluk, but the continued operating costs associated with maintaining the building would have fallen on the city.

“I certainly am in favor of the project to take care of the Optimist building, make a park and improve the entire area, but I do have some problems with the lease agreement,” Krieger said. “I’m looking at $231,000 in repairs that need to be done on the building, and that bothers me. Another thing that bothers me is that the city would then be running that building, renting it out (and) maintaining it. It says the lessee will assume the electric bill, the gas bill, the water bill, the sewer bills, the mowing … and that the City of Scottville would be responsible for the exterior of the building … including structural maintenance and repair. So overall, I have a problem with signing this lease.”

Krieger said the city simply does not have the financial resources to make the commitment.

Magaluk said the DDA projected that it would at least break even by renting the facility out, but she also expressed some uncertainty about the language of the lease.

“The DDA feels that they have the funds to close the (financial) gap, at least for a couple years,” Magaluk said. “The biggest risk is if we have a catastrophic failure in the HVAC system. If that comes up in the five-year term, that would be one of the bigger risks.”

Additionally, Magaluk noted that the Optimists’ request to retain use of the property was potentially problematic.

“The Optimists would be able to continue to use the facility for their regular events, not just for the terms of the lease, but in perpetuity following,” Magaluk said. “That would be a pretty big value they’re receiving each year, with no real limit to it.”

She said she supports the project, but noted that these are details city officials needed to be cognizant of before moving forward.

“I think this project has huge potential and could be a huge catalyst for the downtown. I just want to make sure everyone goes into it with eyes wide open,” she said.

City Attorney Tracy Thompson stated that he also saw several issues with the lease. He noted that the DDA might have enough to purchase the building, but that the costs of maintaining it were vastly more expensive.

“We would be on the hook and responsible for that building for five years. The Optimists would be shifting to us all ongoing costs of the building, and they would retain the ability to go on doing what they’re doing for free … (And) if we find we can’t get the funds for it … we’re still on the hook for for it.”

He added that there might be some public policy concerns in allowing one entity to continue to use the building freely and in perpetuity.

“Giving one entity free use of the building forever — I think there’s some public policy issues with that.

“If we ever want to sell the building, who’s going to want to buy it with that provision?” Thompson said. “Do we really want to get involved in that before we know that we really have the money to fund it?”

City Commissioner Rob Alway, who is the treasurer of the board of directors for the Scottville Clown Band Shell, spoke up in support of the agreement.

“Some people have worked very hard on this project, and it’s time for the city to invest in something to save itself,” Alway said. “If we lose this building, that’s the nail in the coffin (for Scottville). The City of Scottville needs to step up to the plate.”

He said waiting for grant funds to be approved has never been the aim of those who support the project.

“Our intention has not been to sit and wait for magic money from the state, but to proceed with fundraising … and we really can’t fundraise until we have (operational control of the building).”

He said it’s possible the agreement could be amended to alter the Optimists’ requested use of the facility, but urged the commission to support the project.

Alway also raised the question of whether or not the city commission’s permission was even necessary, since the DDA had already approved it.

Thompson said that, while the DDA is its own separate entity with its own budget, he was not entirely sure of the answer to the question, and would find out.

“I haven’t looked at the DDA statute in ages,” Thompson said. “My concern is that the city would ultimately be responsible for the building. If the DDA has $50,000 and that’s only 1/20 of what the project requires.”

Krieger added that the DDA could not make financial committments on the city’s behalf.

Ultimately, Thompson and Marcy Spencer suggested that the city should decide whether or not to buy the property flat out, and that the consideration of a lease agreement muddies the water.

“Just having the responsibility for everything, with no limit, that’s scary to me. I don’t like that at all,” Spencer said. “It would be nice to have a conversation of, to buy or not buy, instead of lease, which is a whole other game than what we’ve been talking about.”

Spencer suggested that the matter should be sent to the city’s finance committee for review.

The lease may yet come back before the commission with updated language, but, as Thompson said of the agreement, “This is not ready to be signed.”

“An easy solution would be to buy the building or not buy the building. Leasing for five years where we get all the expense and may not end up buying it, that’s troubling,” Thompson said.

Also on Monday

City commissioners also approved re-appointing Mason County Rural Fire Authority representative Bill Lehrbass to serve on the board until Dec. 31, 2021.

Alway asked Lehrbass to advocate for the city’s fire department to be able to purchase its own boat for water emergencies, citing a delay in the response time during a drowning that occurred near Riverside Park on Friday morning.