Recall fight lands Pinkney under arrest
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
BENTON HARBOR — Reverend Edward Pinkney is a prisoner in his own home.
At the request of Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic, the Berrien County Court ordered Pinkney arrested April 25 on five felony counts of election fraud, set bail at $300,000, forbade him to leave his Benton Harbor home and put Pinkney on a mechanical tether to make sure he stays there. Pinkney said he is not even allowed to send messages on his computer.
When asked the reason he requested such restrictions on Pinkney, Sepic refused to answer, saying if this case was publicized, court procedures would rule it improperly influenced the jury pool.
Pinkney adds his greatest concerns are not the restrictions on his movements or the legal charges against him, but what he sees as the possibility of foul play.
Pinkney’s arrest stems from passing a petition to recall Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower. Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler says Pinkney and a colleague changed dates next to signatures on the recall petition to make them appear valid.
It is alleged at least a dozen signatures were altered by someone changing the date so they appeared to have been signed within 60 days of when the petitions were filed with the county clerk’s office.
Pinkney denies this happened.
Hightower, who is also founder and senior pastor of Lord of Truth Deliverance Ministries, is loyal to Whirlpool, the global appliance company that has its world headquarters in Benton Harbor.
The motive behind the recall comes from last year when citizens circulated petitions to place the question of levying an income tax on the ballot. Hightower worked with Whirlpool interests to defeat the measure.
Citizens claim with all the tax breaks Whirlpool receives from the city, the corporation is not paying taxes. Income tax proponents say collecting income tax from the corporation and its employees would provide the city $3.5 million annually in badly needed income.
Benton Harbor remains under state control with an appointed advisory board. Emergency Manager Tony Saunders left the city in March, and before leaving Saunders borrowed $2.3 million from the state — the same amount of the city’s debt when the state took it over four years ago — and changed the charter.
Hightower supported Saunders’ efforts, while the city commission majority voted two times against the loan.
Whirlpool’s profits last year were $10 million, Pinkney said.
Berrien County Trial Court Judge John Dewane granted a preliminary injunction May 1 to stay the recall election. This came after County Clerk Sharon Tyler called for a postponement of the election in the wake of Pinkney and a colleague being charged with the crimes related to gathering signatures.
Tyler said she’s relieved the sanctity of the election process in Berrien County will be protected.
Hightower’s term expires at the end of next year. He said the recall has been a big distraction for him and the city.
Pinkney said neighbors told him on April 24, while he was taking his wife out to dinner to celebrate her birthday, a swat team from the Berrien County sheriff’s office surrounded his home. He believes if he had been home at the time he might have been killed and believes such a situation might happen again.
“I believe there’s a strong possibility they want to kill me,” Pinkney said.
Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit denied a swat team was ever sent to Pinkney’s house.
Heit said the sheriff’s office launched an investigation and found officers “spent no time looking for (Pinkney).”
Pinkney said he believes his neighbors.
When he was asked whether trying to jail Pinkney over an election deadline was going after him because of a technicality, Sepic, said, “I think the election process is a sacred trust. If we don’t enforce the rules we make a mockery of it.”
Pinkney said he has received hostility from public officials because of his efforts to fight against corrupt and racist policies in Berrien County.
He says prosecuting him is an attempt to “intimidate, scare and terrorize” people in the community.
Pinkney has battled the racism in Berrien County courts for years and was arrested for quoting the Bible to a judge, a case that aroused national outrage for the free speech violation.
Pinkney can be reached at 269.925.0001 or www.bhbanco.org.
Ron Seigel contributed to this report.