Flint, MI – Flint City Councilman Eric Mays was found guilty of disorderly conduct after a two-day trial in the 67th District Court.
The case was heard by Judge Vikki Bayeh-Haley. According to Michigan law, Mays’ charge is a misdemeanor punishable by not more than 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.
The sentencing is scheduled for April 25, 2023 – exactly one year after the offense took place – at 8:30 a.m.
“I’m very surprised and disappointed at the verdict,” Mays said. He thinks he should have spent more time talking about the disorderly conduct ordinance instead of the council rules, he said.
Mays also said he thinks things would have gone better if the people in the jury were from Flint. “I think that I would have rather had a jury of my peers. You had people from Flushing, Swartz Creek, Grand Blanc. I would have preferred Flint residents,” he said.
Mays called eight witnesses Thursday and Friday to explain his point that he was wrongfully arrested at the city council Special Affairs Committee meeting on April 25, 2022. Attorney Michael Gildner, who represented the City of Flint, called two witnesses on Thursday.
Mays focused primarily on council rule 27.1, which states that if a council member leaves without permission, they cannot return to the meeting.
“No councilpersons shall leave a meeting of the council without first having obtained leave to do so from the president, presiding officer or committee chair,” the rule reads. “If a councilperson leaves a meeting without having obtained this permission, the presiding officer is to assume the councilperson has left the meeting and will not, cannot, return without the presiding officer’s permission. A councilperson who has left a meeting may not vote without having first obtained the presiding officer’s permission to return to the meeting.”
Video footage showed that City Council President Allie Herkenroder, who was chair at the meeting, granted Mays permission to be excused from the meeting.
Haley said this video clip proved that Herkenroder’s testimony Thursday, where she denied granting Mays permission, was false.
In Thursday’s testimony, Herkenroder responded “no” when Mays asked if she gave him some type of permission to leave the meeting. “Your testimony, I know, to this jury is or isn’t that you gave me some type of permission or excuse to leave my seat. Yes or no?”
However, Herkenroder was not the only council member to testify that Mays did not ask and receive permission to leave the meeting. Councilwoman Judy Priestley also testified that she was 100% certain Mays did not ask permission to leave. “You stated you were leaving, you did not ask permission,” she said.
Mays requested to leave after receiving a warning from council for his use of profanity.
The video showed that Herkenroder said, “Yes, you may be excused,” in response to Mays’ request: “May I ask to be excused so you don’t get the pleasure of throwing me out? May I be excused?”
Then, when Mays returned to his seat after approximately eight to 12 minutes, Herkenroder said she thought he left the meeting for good and requested that he leave his seat for the remainder of the meeting.
“Mr. Mays, the chair was under the impression that you wanted to be excused from the meeting,” Herkenroder said at the meeting.
Mays appealed her ruling, Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter supported the motion and then council discussed the motion. After deliberation, the council voted 7-1 with Winfrey-Carter abstaining and Mays as the ‘no’ vote.
When Mays refused to leave, he was arrested by Flint Police Officer William Metcalfe, who testified Thursday that Mays told him he would not leave his seat unless he was handcuffed and arrested.
All members of city council who testified said that they have requested to be excused from meetings before for a variety of reasons and have returned to their seats without issue.
However, councilmembers had different interpretations of the city council rule. Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer and Councilwoman Eva Worthing, for example, testified that a councilperson always has to receive permission to return to a meeting, whether they asked permission to leave or not.
Whereas Priestley and Winfrey-Carter testified that if a councilperson asks for permission to leave, they do not have to request permission to come back.
In a closing statement, Gildner said that it doesn’t matter if Mays was granted permission to leave or not. He said Mays was arrested for not leaving once he got back to the meeting after being asked to by the chair and after council voted on it.
Gildner asked several of the councilmembers if they were able to complete the city’s business during the period of time between Mays being asked to leave and him being arrested. The council debated the appeal of the chair’s ask for Mays to leave for about 18 minutes. Then, It was about two and a half minutes after the vote was over before Mays was escorted out of the meeting. Councilmembers testified that they were unable to work during this period of time.
Mays said he didn’t have to be arrested for not leaving because he was allowed to return to the meeting after excusing himself and receiving permission from the chair for his initial leave. He also said that council could have continued if he was not arrested.