MICHIGAN CITY — An outspoken critic of Mayor Ron Meer, who was cleared of criminal charges after allegedly making threats at City Hall, has been banned from the building during business hours by order of a judge.
Rodney McCormick was arrested in November 2018 outside City Hall after allegedly making threats to “shoot up” the place, and was charged with felony intimidation.
La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake later dismissed the criminal charge, but the mayor filed for an emergency Order of Protection, which was granted. The latest ruling, issued July 20, is an extension of that order.
Starke County Circuit Judge Kim Hall ruled in Meer’s favor after conducting hearings on the matter in Knox and Michigan City.
In the ruling, Hall wrote that McCormick “represents a credible threat to the safety” of Meer and members of his household; that evidence shows “stalking has occurred”; and the order is justified to “bring about a cessation of the threat of violence.”
The ruling orders McCormick to stop “committing or threatening to commit acts of stalking” against Meer, his wife, Agnes Meer; and their children, Jewel Meer and Aaron Fowler; and to stop “harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting or directly or indirectly communicating” with the mayor.
Meer said he was “very grateful for the judge’s decision,” saying McCormick had “threatened violence” and “verbally accosted him.”
Judge Hall ordered McCormick to “stay away” from the mayor’s home and place of employment.
McCormick must “stay away from the City Hall building, adjacent parking lots and adjacent sidewalks” from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but is allowed to attend public meetings at City Hall after 5 p.m. on weekdays, and anytime on weekends, even if Meer is present, the order states.
If McCormick wishes to enter CIty Hall during regular hours, he must first petition the court, which will conduct a hearing where both sides can be heard, Hall wrote.
The judge noted City Hall is a public building and McCormick has the right to “conduct business and attend public meetings,” but the mayor also has “no fewer rights to the protection of Indiana law” than a private citizen.
And he said while McCormick has the “constitutional right to free speech, including political speech” that’s critical of Meer, “the method and manner of that speech is not without boundaries.
“An individual’s right to exercise free speech does not bestow upon the speaker the right to intimidate or place another in fear of bodily harm,” Hall wrote.
Hall quoted McCormick’s attorney as saying her client was “vehemently opposed” to the manner in which Meer conducts city business, and that, “He yells about it. He thumps his chest.”
The judge wrote that an individual “has the right to vehemently oppose an elected official’s actions, but does not have the right to intimidate, bully, threaten, yell, terrorize or frighten ... Free speech must be balanced against the right to not be placed in fear or terrorized.
“There is a line that must not be crossed,” Hall wrote, and, “considering the totality of the circumstances, [McCormick] crossed that line.”
Meer agreed, saying, “I believe in free speech but when you start to intimidate or threaten, that takes it to a whole other level. He went over the line. Some people think public officials don’t have the same rights as other people and can be abused, but we’re citizens just like everyone else.”
And while allowing McCormick to attend public meetings at City Hall, the judge noted that “Michigan City has the resources to ensure the protection of all individuals” at meetings.
Hall set the order to remain in effect for two years, until July 18, 2021, with a violation “punishable by confinement in jail, prison and/or a fine.”
Meer said that since the ruling was issued, he has not “been approached by McCormick” and “he has not been by my residence that I know of ... He continues his social media rants, but that’s a different form of free speech.”
At the time of his arrest on the intimidation charge, McCormick said he’d been campaigning outside the Michigan City Courthouse and went to City Hall to retrieve political signs that had been confiscated from the sidewalk.
“I never even had a conversation with [Meer],” McCormick told the News-Dispatch. “He came out of the blue and said, ‘You should have left my family out of this. Should have never said anything about my wife’.”
McCormick was then surrounded by police and arrested after leaving the building.
Lake told the News-Dispatch he made the decision to dismiss the charge after watching 14 hours of video footage and determining no “direct or credible” threat had been made to give his office probable cause to prosecute McCormick.
Lake said Meer was recorded making his accusation three separate times, each with a slight but significant variation: first, that McCormick said he “might” shoot up City Hall; then, that he “ought to” shoot up City Hall; and finally, that he was “going to” shoot up City Hall.
“Even if you take the very first statement where Mayor Meer said Rodney said he ‘might’ or ‘ought to’ do this – that just doesn’t rise to the charge of intimidation under Indiana law,” Lake said at the time. “It speaks to the future … and it has to be a present thing.”
He also noted that McCormick passed a polygraph test while maintaining he never threatened the mayor.
McCormick referred questions to his attorney, who did not respond in time for this publication.
(Editor’s note: The mayor says he’s disappointed with La Porte County judges and the La Porte County Prosecutor’s office, and that he should not need a Starke County judge to protect himself and his family. Prosecutor John Lake defended his office, saying they did file charges against Rodney McCormick, and called the situation politically motivated. Read Saturday’s News-Dispatch for complete details.)