Police called to Fremont hall on Election Day

Robert DeCoe
Robert DeCoe, candidate for supervisor in Fremont Township, points to where he says police confronted him about impeding traffic Tuesday morning. (Photo by John Cook)

Challenger Robert DeCoe battled incumbent Supervisor Henry Wymore at the polls Tuesday, but said he also did verbal battle with a Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department officer confronting him outside the township hall about a report DeCoe impeded traffic.
DeCoe, 72, said someone reported him to police after he exchanged verbal barbs with Ron Curell, an election inspector at the Fremont Township Hall, 4850 Mertz Road.
DeCoe said that as he stood in the area of the driveway about 10 yards off M-24 on Election Day morning, handing out 4-inch-by-5-inch cards urging his election, Curell approached him from the township hall.
“Curell comes bustin’ out here and he yells ‘You gotta be on the other side of that yellow tape right there!’” said DeCoe, referring to yellow caution tape connected to various objects to form a border near the north side of the driveway leading into the township hall parking lot.
Tuscola County Clerk Jodi Fetting said a campaigner or campaign sign must be at least 100 feet from the entrance of a polling location. DeCoe said he and his son, Robert DeCoe Jr., used a tape measure to scratch a 100-foot arc from the township hall entrance in the gravel parking lot. The border created by the yellow tape was farther back from the hall entrance.
“I told Curell ‘There’s no way I’m gonna stand on the other side of that yellow tape, and if you’ve got a problem with that, call the cops,’” DeCoe said. “So in a little bit here come three cops.”
Leeanna Uhl, an election worker at the Fremont Township polling place, said “A voter called police because (DeCoe) was standing in the middle of the driveway stopping people.”
DeCoe denies blocking cars from proceeding into the hall parking lot. He said Deputy Jon Ramirez “jumped out of his car like old Barney Bad A– and says ‘We got so many complaints that you’re impeding traffic and jumping out and harassing people.’”
DeCoe alleged Ramirez grumbled at him in an aggressive tone when approaching DeCoe, a Democrat seeking to oust incumbent Wymore, a 69-year-old Republican.
“He said ‘Lemme see your license! We’ve got all kinds of complaints that you’re impeding traffic, and you’re within the 100-foot (radius).’ I said ‘Let me show you something where I’m at.’ He said ‘Don’t approach me! Don’t approach me. You back off from me and you stand right there.’
“I said ‘Listen, son, I’m old enough to be your dad. Don’t talk to me that way. I’m over here campaigning, doing what I should do.’”
DeCoe said he explained to Ramirez and two sheriff’s department officers how he approached cars as they drove into the parking lot at the polling place.
“When (occupants of cars) saw me standing here, they’d have their window down, and I’d just hand (a campaign flier) through the window,” DeCoe said. “I wasn’t impeding any traffic at all. If I saw two or three cars waiting to turn in the parking lot, I wouldn’t hand (fliers) out.”
DeCoe, however, said he obeyed a police order to not hand the cards to occupants of cars entering the township hall parking lot. Instead, he agreed to stand and hold a larger campaign sign as vehicles drove into the lot.
“He doesn’t have to stay behind the yellow tape, but he can’t stop cars,” Curell said of DeCoe. “He can basically hold up his sign. That’s what I was informed. And that’s from the county.”
Township Treasurer Charles Sherwin told The Advertiser that township property ends “in the middle of the driveway” and that the north half of the driveway isn’t owned by the township. Sherwin said yellow caution tape was connected to several objects to create a boundary near the driveway’s north side “at the request of the property owner.”
DeCoe said he called the sheriff’s department to report the behavior of Ramirez, hoping to reach Sheriff Lee Teschendorf.
“The sheriff and I are good friends,” DeCoe said, adding he left a voicemail message with Undersheriff Glen Skrent when told Teschendorf wasn’t at the office.
In an email to The Advertiser, Skrent stated he has not read any police report on the incident or viewed any video from any officer’s body camera, or seen any formal complaint.
DeCoe said that for a period of time Tuesday morning, Ida Barrons – running for a Fremont Township trustee seat – also stood in the vicinity of the driveway to the township hall parking lot as motorists drove into the lot.
DeCoe said one motorist tried to run him over.
“One lady drove into this driveway at about 40 miles an hour and she swerved over to hit me,” DeCoe said. “Then she drove over there and got out of her car, and stood there with a camera taking a video of me.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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