By Carol Stiffler
Michael Fossum, a part-time deputy in the Luce County Sheriff Department, officially entered the race for sheriff in March. He knew he would be running against his boss, current Sheriff John Cischke.
The result has been perilous, according to Fossum. In a series of actions that smack of retaliation, Fossum says he hasn’t been allowed to work since March 19. Before he was taken off the schedule, his work vehicle was searched and he says he was accused of passing out campaign signs from his patrol vehicle – something he says he did not do.
Fossum has been on unemployment since March, and has asked to come back to work. When new Luce County Sheriff Deputy Anthony Ciaramitaro resigned, a full-time position was empty and Fossum says he requested more hours then. He was denied.
Most recently, he says he was told he can return to work after he gets a COVID vaccine – a product that isn’t yet available.
Fossum consulted with a family attorney who recommended a lawyer in Munising, but that woman told him she could not work for him for fear of retaliation when she passes through Luce County. He has also contacted the Michigan Attorney General’s office in his search for assistance.
Cischke says Fossum had not been doing his job due to fears of the coronavirus, and said Fossum couldn’t come back to the department until the virus was gone or Fossum had received the vaccine. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when less was known, Fossum made fewer traffic stops and reported to Cischke that it was because he had concerns about the virus.
Fossum agrees he reduced the number of traffic stops he completed, and that he had been concerned about the virus, but also said general traffic was light due to wintery conditions. He further stated that he went on every call where his presence was requested, and was fully working the whole time he was on duty.
Fossum’s concerns were shared by other law enforcement officers. Sheriff departments in lower Michigan intentionally reduced the number of traffic stops made by their deputies to limit the risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus, according to a report on the mlive.com website.
Most recently, Cischke has said he will not comment on the issue because of concerns that Fossum has hired an attorney.
Both men are running as Republicans, which means the sheriff race will be decided in the August primary when one defeats the other. The winner of the primary will still have to be voted into office in the November election.
Cischke is completing his first four-year term and is seeking a second. He has more life in him to give, he says.
Fossum, who is seeking his first ever elected position, says he would like to be more involved with the community and help foster a closer relationship between the community and the department.