Dozens protest in Alpena in response to King texts
ALPENA — About 50 people marched down Chisholm Street in Alpena on Saturday, carrying signs promoting gay rights and protesting texts sent by Terry King, a Republican candidate for Alpena County sheriff in the Aug. 4 primary.
The march was planned after text messages from 2013 — while King was undersheriff for Alpena County — were retrieved from King’s work phone and obtained by an individual through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
One text message, sent by King to a family member, followed a photo texted by King of two men holding hands.
“THESE guys are holding hands. Where is my fricken gun,” King’s text from 2013 read, followed shortly thereafter by another text from him reading, “Bang bang.”
The FOIAed text messages were distributed on social media and are being used by some to accuse King of homophobia.
Saturday’s march was intended as a protest against the hate displayed in the texts, an event organizer said.
King faces his former boss, Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski, in the primary. King was forced to resign nearly a year ago over what Kieliszewski said were “several matters where … there was a lack of judgement” on King’s part. King has sued for wrongful termination, claiming he was ousted for blowing the whistle on others’ wrongdoing in the department.
Others, meanwhile, are looking into Kieliszewski’s communications, and a county commissioner is raising concerns that the sheriff is in charge of deciding which of his own communications get released to the public.
Alpena County Commissioner John Kozlowski has submitted a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request to the Sheriff’s Office, seeking text messages from Kieliszewski’s and King’s county-issued cell phones from August 2018, before King was forced to resign, through September 2019.
To get a clear picture on King’s resignation and the investigation that prompted it, residents deserve transparency on both men’s taxpayer-funded communications, the county commissioner said.
Kozlowski worries, though, that Kieliszewski — who is his department’s FOIA coordinator — can determine if the request is granted or denied and choose which texts to release and which to redact.
“I do have concerns about that,” he said. “I don’t think someone who is being FOIA’d should be in control of what they release, or what they leave in or take out.”
It’s perfectly legal for the sheriff to do so under the state’s open records laws, Jennifer Dukorski, Michigan Press Association assistant general counsel, said.
However, “it really doesn’t pass the smell test, and the optics of that would be horrible,” she said. “It would look very suspect all the way around, even if it is legal.”
In a statement responding to Saturday’s march, King told The News, “I support everyone’s First Amendment right to peacefully express their thoughts.”
Kieliszewski could not be reached for comment.
At the mostly-peaceful march, several passing drivers honked and waved to the protesters as they walked from 4th Avenue to State Avenue.
Marchers chanted as they walked, calling out “Love, not hate” and “TK, no way.”
Across the street, a man wearing a King for Sheriff campaign shirt kept pace with the walkers, calling, “TK, all the way. TK don’t care if they’re gay.”
Suzy Langeveld, the event organizer, moved to Alpena from Detroit about five years ago, and notices a lack of exposure to gay people locally, she said.
“We’re normal, just like everybody else,” Langeveld said. “We have houses, we pay our bills, we have jobs.”
She’s never organized a march before, but felt King’s texts necessitated a response.
“A publicly elected official should not hate anybody,” Langeveld said. “There’s no place for hate in any community.”
A lot of people are nervous about being gay in Alpena, said Isabel Luther, 18, one of Saturday’s protesters. Identifying as bisexual herself, said she was upset about King’s texts and came to the march to show her support of the gay commuinty.
The march ended at King’s campaign headquarters, where Langeveld spoke briefly to the crowd.
After Langeveld finished, a counter-protester with a bullhorn yelled an expletive. He called the marchers cowards when they moved away as he began to speak.
“Have a great day, sir,” said someone in the crowd. “We love you.”
News staff writer Steve Schulwitz contributed to this story.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that King is a candidate in the Aug. 4 primary. When he’ll appear on the ballot was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.