UPDATE: A District Court Judge has released Ford, asking her to pay nothing but the $500 she has already paid.
It’s happened to most of us, I’d imagine. Whether it’s your cell phone company, a store clerk, an insurance company or in this case, a county clerk’s office; it’s the attempt at resolution that appears to fall on deaf ears. It’s the conversation that goes in circles. You become frustrated. You don’t pull out a gun, you don’t make threats, you don’t even call the person names, but a few swear words do escape your lips. Most companies and (I assume), most government offices do allow their employees to draw the line at profanity. At that point, many are allowed to hang up on you or even kick you out of their store or office, but for one woman in Michigan, two swear words have landed her in jail, where she is sitting out the holidays and beyond.
LaRue Ford had a good reason for swearing. She has no criminal record. She has a master’s degree in social work. She moved to Indiana to be close to her family. She tried to get a commercial driver’s license, so she could work as a driver, but was denied because of a 2004 traffic ticket in Berrien County, MI.
She paid the $444 fine in November, but she was still denied the license. After talking with a clerk, it was discovered that she also needed to pay a $50 reinstatement fee. As she was leaving the clerk’s office, she uttered, “f*** this s***.” At that point, she was told to appear before a judge when she returned with the money.
That judge was District Judge Dennis Wiley, who held Ford in contempt. She posted bond and was released, but the judge revoked the bond and she’s been in jail since December 18th because she doesn’t have a permanent address yet.
The ACLU is taking the case, saying, “Judges are supposed to follow the law,” said John Targowski, an attorney also working on the case. “We don’t necessarily think that happened here.”
“If we put in jail every rude person on this earth, or in this county, or in this state, where do the criminals go?”
Here’s the video from WOOD TV 8:
This isn’t the first time that Judge Wiley has jailed someone for words. In 2008, he sentenced a pastor for three to 10 years after quoting the Bible. The pastor, Reverend Eddie Pinkney, like Ford, is African-American. In 2007, he was convicted of voter fraud and ballot tampering. His supporters claim that the charges were trumped up but he was denied a retrial by by Berrien County Judge Alfred Butzbaugh. In response, Pinkney wrote an editorial to Chicago’s People’s Tribune, where he quoted this verse from Deuteronomy:
“Judge Butzbaugh, it shall come to pass; if thou continue not to hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe to do all that is right; which I command thee this day, that all these Curses shall come upon you and your family, cursed shalt be the City of St. Joseph and Cursed shalt thou be in the field, curses shall come upon you and your family and over take thee; cursed shall be the fruit of thy body. The Lord shall smite thee with consumption and with a fever and with an inflammation and with extreme burning. The demons shall Pursue thee until thou persist.”
Judge Wiley said that the Bible verse constituted a threat and was a violation of Pinkney’s probation. Pinkney was ordered to return to jail to finish out his three to 10 year prison sentence. The ACLU helped him post bond and he is now serving his sentence under house arrest.
It is alleged that Wiley has a history of racism. Pinkney claims:
“Over 85% of the people who work for Berrien County courthouse know about this judge who is a drunk and a racist.”
“Judge Dennis Wiley on October 18, 2011 denied a young Mexican the right to have his criminal record expunged. The only reason he was denied he was a Mexican. Reverend Pinkney spoke with the young man attorney afterward. He advised him that if his client were anything but a minority, he would have been successful.”
“Judge Dennis M. Wiley is wanted for crimes against humanity.”
“I believe Judge Dennis Wiley is the most crooked judge in the entire judiciary. He has shown wanton negligence in over 75% of his cases.”
Was this passage a threat? While it’s clear Pinkney wasn’t about to send the judge flowers, the Bible verse was more a wish of harm than a wish to harm. In other words, it’s one thing to wish your neighbor would get run over by a car. It’s another to actually tell your neighbor you are going to run them over with a car. Judges make a lot of enemies. It goes with the territory. It’s highly doubtful that this was the first time that someone wished them harm, without the intent of actually doing harm. If quoting Bible verses or wishing harm upon others constituted threats, Glenn Beck, the Westboro Baptist Church and much of the religious right would be sitting in jail. Bill O’Reilly’s words prompted the murder of an abortion provider, yet he is still allowed to regale us with his paranoid delusions of a War on Christmas.
In the mean time, Ford is still sitting in jail. Her family has been unable to post bond. There has been no word from Berrien County.
Wendy Gittleson is a seasoned writer, a dog lover and an avid political junkie. She is the Senior Editor for Addicting Info. In her rare down times, you’ll find her somewhere in the mountains or near the beach. Follow her on her Facebook page or on Twitter, @wendygittleson