An annual event at Diamond Lake’s sandbar is stirring controversy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office says increased patrols led to numerous arrests and citations over the weekend. Now, we're finding out about the potential consequences that could come from the party.
The party is over, but the strong opinions about it aren’t. The greater attention to it is encouraging residents to speak out for change and even pushing law enforcement to consider additional charges.
A calm day on the lake is appreciated by longtime homeowner Cheryl Blakemore. But that wasn’t the case Saturday, and she's calling the party of a couple hundred people “an embarrassment.”
"You’re kind of mortified because we take such pride in our lake," said Blakemore. "We never used to have big parties out here. Our sandbar is famous for the fact that it’s a large sandbar where people can bring their little ones to swim.”
Blakemore says she’s not looking forward to a potential spread of coronavirus after the big gathering.
“I just wish people would be respectful of not only what’s going on right now in our country, but also those that are trying to do the right thing.”
Diamond Lake Association President-Elect Mike Malone agrees — because many people who live there are in the high-risk category.
“This is probably the most compliant population you’re going to find who pays attention to social distancing, wearing masks, making sure you wash your hands," said Malone.
He thinks party organizers shouldn’t get a pass on disobeying rules set by the governor.
Police say numerous people were arrested or given citations for drunk driving, assaults and minors in possession of alcohol.
“A lot of very very inappropriate behavior.”
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz is not handling the matter because he has an affiliation with a Diamond Lake Association. He says a prosecutor will be assigned from a neighboring county or the Michigan Attorney General’s office.
He does expect more charges to be filed by the Sheriff’s Office.
“But I don’t want to comment on whether or not those are viable charges or not because again that will be a determination made by an independent prosecutor,” said Fitz.
Malone said he wants the DNR to require a permit for parties on the sandbar, but the DNR says a permit is not needed.
When we reached out for comment about potential charges, a party organizer named Keith said that “it’s a constitutionally protected activity.”