Tuesday, March 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sheriff’s Office Eavesdropped, Employees Say

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) - The sheriff and undersheriff of Leelanau County eavesdropped on deputies using the sheriff's department phone system and used the recorded conversations to threaten and intimidate employees, according to a lawsuit filed in Federal Court.

Five employees challenged the practice, including two union representatives James Kiessel and Duane Wright. Sheriff Michael Oltersdorf and Undersheriff Scott Wooters allegedly heard them discussing a union contract issue involving scheduling and pay policies for 10-hour shifts and holiday overtime pay. During the conversation, Kiessel and Wright purportedly made some negative comments about the defendants.

The defendants confronted Kiessel about the remarks and said that if he couldn't handle his job, they would find someone else who could.

The defendants also eavesdropped on a call between Wright and Michael Bankey, then-union president for the deputies, the lawsuit claims. That conversation included comments about how the sheriff and undersheriff had botched and mishandled the internal investigation of another deputy.

Wooters told Sgt. Michael Lamb that Wright and Bankey "couldn't be trusted and can't be promoted," the lawsuit claims. Kiessel and Lamb say they later overhead the sheriff telling Wooters, "Hey Scott, go listen to the lines and see what the boys are saying."

The plaintiffs say the eavesdropping violated federal law and their civil rights. They demand actual and punitive damages, and are represented by Michael Dettmer of Olson, Bzdok & Howard P.C.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.