A man was arrested and charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon on Sunday after calling authorities to report a trespasser on his property in Crawford County, Michigan. The property owner has alleged less than honorable actions on the part of the sheriff deputies who responded.
Military veteran, Thomas Donald, along with his 11-year-old son, were out hunting on their 10 acres of property. Donald carried an “unloaded” single-shot .410-gauge shotgun, while his son chose to carry a crossbow.
As they were traipsing through the woods, Donald heard the sound of an engine disrupting the otherwise tranquil land. They encountered a man on a dirt bike and escorted the trespasser to the front of his house, telling his wife, Heather Donald, to contact the Department of Natural Resources to file a “recreational trespass.”
The scene that unfolded when Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived at Donald’s house, left the family more than a little surprised, though Sheriff Kirk Wakefield recounted to TheBlaze a vastly different story.
In an interview with TheBlaze, Heather explained what happened from the couple’s perspective. Donald declined to give his side of what happened based on the legal council of his attorney.
According to Heather, when deputies first responded to the scene, her husband held up the “open shotgun” with his left hand while holding the shell in his right hand, a gesture meant to indicate the weapon was unloaded and he meant no harm.
The deputies either misinterpreted the gesture, or blatantly ignored it. One of the deputies, identified by Heather as Deputy Shawn Schnoor, was “fumbling” with his pistol as he drew down on Donald and ordered him to the ground.
After handcuffing Donald, deputies interviewed the trespassing suspect. Feeling the situation was quickly escalating out of control, Heather stated she began filming the scene on her cellphone camera.
In the short, 36-second video, Heather can be heard asking the deputies why her husband is being arrested.
“Because we pulled up and he had a handgun – or excuse me, a rifle,” one of the deputies said before being corrected by Donald. “A shotgun.”
When asked if they would remove Donald’s handcuffs, one deputy replies, “He’s under – for our protection.” Heather said it appeared the deputy abruptly stopped short of saying her husband was “under arrest.”
Visibly frustrated, one of the deputies tell Heather she “can” stop filming, but when she declines, he claims the cellphone just became “evidence,” and he moves to take it from her.
Donald, still lying on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back, shouts to the deputy, “No you won’t!”
“Yep. Ma’am you’re going to be under-“ the video stops there, but according to Heather, the last word from the deputy was “arrest.”
After being threatened with obstruction of justice charges, Heather left the phone on the railing of the front porch. Deputies temporarily confiscated the phone, but later returned it before they left.
“They never told me why they needed my phone for evidence,” Heather added.
Heather told TheBlaze the deputies ordered her to delete the video from her cellphone. She stated she complied, but after a little technical wizardry was able to restore the deleted file.
Sheriff Wakefield had a very different perspective on the story.
Wakefield denied any attempt on the deputies part to delete the video and told TheBlaze the trespassing suspect reported Donald pointed a “loaded” gun at him and detained him at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived. The sheriff confirmed they have no evidence to support either claim and it boils down to one man’s word against the other.
Wakefield argued that since the Donald’s property lacked “no trespassing” signs, the alleged trespasser suspect was actually the “victim.” Though Heather told TheBlaze there was indeed “signage plastered on three sides up and down” the property. She also provided video of the signage.
“You have to think, ‘Ok, how did this all happen?’ You go back and you can see on the trail where the guy was riding his bike. We get out there and he’s got the gun in his hand,” the sheriff said. “What does that lead one to believe? When you point a loaded firearm at someone, unless you are in fear of your life, that’s felonious assault.”
When Wakefield was asked if the trespassing suspect’s word against Donald was enough evidence to charge for a felony, he answered in the affirmative, adding that it didn’t even matter if the gun was loaded or not.
“We don’t want to hinge this on whether or not the gun was loaded. The point is, he pointed the gun,” Wakefield declared.
Donald’s wife insisted the shotgun was unloaded and that based on his military training, her husband would never cover a target he wasn’t prepared to destroy.
“It’s very disturbing,” Heather said. “And all this happened in front of my children. Police are supposed to be the good guys and, at least in this case, they didn’t hold themselves to that standard.”