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Body Cam Video Sheds Light on Mich. Election Data Fiasco

Body camera footage captured by a sheriff's deputy in Emmet County, Mich., provides some insight into how a small group fueled by misinformation attempted to take election data from a county office.

body camera
(TNS) — Recordings from a deputy's body camera provide new details about how a small, unofficial group came together last year in a conspiracy theory-fueled attempt to access election data in a remote corner of northern Michigan.

Video captured by Emmet County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Hazen shows the deputy answered a call about a possible break-in at the Cross Village township offices and found a ballot tabulator open, its internal computer removed with screws stripped and eight people in the building.

The Record-Eagle obtained Hazen's body camera video and others from Emmet County through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Sheriff's department reports show no connection between this incident and allegations of others in Michigan reported to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office, though Benson did warn clerks to be vigilant.

"Our office has recently received multiple credible allegations of instances in which an unauthorized third-party has been granted access to vote tabulation machines in violation of Michigan law," Benson said, in a Feb. 10 letter to city, township and county clerks.

The next day, a Michigan State Police spokesperson confirmed an investigation into allegations an unnamed third party accessed voting equipment in Roscommon County's Richfield Township.

Richfield Township Clerk Greg Watt couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday; MSP Sgt. Ashley Miller said the investigation is ongoing.


Mary Clark, president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, described what she said has become an unsettling pattern of misinformation.

"It's a pattern in the sense that there are people who still decline to accept the reality of the 2020 election outcome," Clark said. "There's also a lot of misunderstanding about how elections work."

One fallacy, for example, is that data is stored on a voting tabulator months after an election is over.

"There's nothing in the tabulator after election night," Clark said. "Because everything is saved to an encrypted jump drive that gets delivered to the county clerk in a sealed bag."

Cross Village Township Clerk Diana Keller said as much in previous interviews with the Record-Eagle.

Hazen's Jan. 14, 2021, body cam video shows, however, the two men who greeted the deputy at the door of the historic schoolhouse-turned-offices, library and meeting space for Cross Village Township's 281 residents, appear unaware the machines contain no data.

Instead, Allan Coveyou, owner of a Petoskey computer repair business, and Michael Starkey, wearing a bulletproof vest and equipped with a holstered sidearm and handcuffs, discuss an assignment they apparently believed at the time, originated from a federal agency.

"I was contracted, from, like, a Department of Defense contact, to come here and clone the hard drive so they can investigate the software at some other place," Coveyou told Hazen.

"Allegedly the DOD is on the perimeter, allegedly, we don't know," said Starkey. "But there are DOD contractors that have been watching this place ... I can't confirm or deny but I'm just telling you the information we were given."

Township Trustee Howard Wood was with Starkey and Coveyou as they recorded a 25-minute video of activity on Jan. 14, 2021, prior to Hazen's arrival.

Emmet County officials released the video to the Record-Eagle in response to the FOIA request.

"Are you guys from the state or anything?" Keller asks the men. "I just feel like I should be checking who you're from. Is this a legit thing?"

"Yes ma'am, it is legitimate," Starkey can be heard answering. "We'd never put you in a position like that."

Keller previously said the men's manner and the fact that Starkey was armed made her feel afraid and intimidated.

Hazen said in a report of the incident he believed the men's presence at the township office was legitimate, as was their goal of collecting voting data from the tabulator.

Three others Hazen interviewed on scene — former township clerk Priscilla Sweet and her friends, sisters Tiera and Tawnya Morse of Harbor Springs — provided no specific explanation for their presence at the building.

An eighth person, a man who lives near the township hall, arrived during Hazen's investigation to use the building's public wifi but was turned away.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Defense said claims that the agency oversees elections or hires outside contractors for the job are fallacious.

A military spokesperson, Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said the agency plays no role in "conducting, adjudicating, or enforcing elections in the United States."

States can choose to activate their National Guard to support local law enforcement at polling places if needed, Mitchell added, but Michigan's leaders did not.

The DOD didn't send anyone to access voting data in Cross Village, Mitchell said.


Coveyou, in separate, subsequent interviews with a sheriff's detective and a reporter, said a woman he'd never met named Tera Jackson asked him to "clone" the township's election data, and she was the one who'd invoked the DOD.

Records show Jackson called and texted Coveyou and said she worked for the "Election Integrity Commission," which Coveyou said he initially thought sounded credible; Jackson later told Hazen she was a secret employee of DIG, which she described as the "Data Integrity Group," records show.

Claims that either of those entities is a government agency or has legal authority to access election data are false.

In Michigan, an elected or appointed township clerk is the only person authorized to remove data from election equipment, Clark said. And they can do so only to deliver election results to the county clerk.

Michigan law states it's a misdemeanor for any official to disobey a lawful instruction from the secretary of state, and a felony for an unauthorized person to take possession of a voting machine.

Emmet County Sheriff's Detective Matt Leirstein told Coveyou as much, a report states, adding in his investigation Leirstein found no legitimate group called the Election Integrity Commission.

What Jackson asked the men to do, Leirstein wrote in the report, was a crime.


Jackson was arraigned in November in 90th District Court on felony charges of fraud and unauthorized access to a computer, court records show.

Last month she pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor charge of causing a disturbance, as part of a plea deal with Emmet County Prosecutor James Linderman's office.

Court records show Jackson's sentence will be dismissed if she successfully completes 60 days of what the court labeled a "delay period" though not probation which an assistant prosecutor did not explain.

A no-contest plea does not require a defendant to share details of the crime with a judge, and during her Feb. 22 sentencing Jackson did not.

Jackson did previously discuss her role in the voting data incident during a 34-minute profanity-laced telephone interview with Hazen, which the deputy recorded on his body camera.

"I thought we were going in, just taking a copy of the f---ing drive, but seriously? This is crazy," Jackson tells Hazen. "You don't have any right to ask me anything."


In the phone interview with Hazen, Jackson casted doubt on Antrim County's handling of the 2020 Presidential election, said she has connections with attorney Sidney Powell and Phil Waldron — allies of former President Donald Trump who assisted Trump with election challenges — said a Vatican-owned satellite connected to a central banking system is suspicious, and, while she is nonpartisan, told Hazen, "If you voted for Biden, you're an idiot."

Antrim County made national headlines in 2020, after County Clerk Sheryl Guy was falsely accused of voter fraud and the county was sued by a local man, Bill Bailey, who said passage of a marijuana ordinance by a single vote violated his constitutional rights.

A court order granted Bailey access to the county's voting machines, and a Dallas-based third-party team later produced a widely debunked report election experts said was riddled with errors.

Record-Eagle reporting showed Bailey lived in Central Lake Township and only voters registered in the Village of Central Lake voted on the marijuana ordinance.

"The report was thoroughly debunked by multiple election experts, but not before it was cited as the reason for the federal government to seize tabulation machines in a draft executive order of former president Donald Trump," Benson said in a Feb. 10 press release.

Benson referenced a never-issued draft executive order dated Dec. 16, 2020, and first published by Politico that cites the Antrim County report and, if acted on by then-President Trump, would have directed the secretary of defense to seize voting machines.

Benson said a submission in the since-dismissed Antrim County lawsuit claims to include an image from an Election Systems & Software tabulator, the vendor that provides tabulators to Roscommon County.

Cross Village Township also uses ES&S equipment; Antrim County uses Dominion Voting Systems equipment.

Clerks who suspect unauthorized access to voter data or other election-related wrongdoing are asked to call Lori Bourbonais at SOS's Bureau of Elections or can report suspicious activity anonymously by calling the office's fraud tip line, 844-372-8356, Benson said.

Hazen's interview with Jackson frequently veered off topic, and the deputy's voice sounded increasingly frustrated by her repeated interruptions, though at the mention of Biden and Trump, the two appeared to find common ground.

"I think just about every law enforcement officer in the nation voted for Trump," Hazen told Jackson, "so don't worry about that."

It's unclear whether Hazen's comment was an interview tactic, or the deputy was sharing an unguarded moment, though Jackson later hung up the phone or was disconnected.

Also unclear is how 238 votes — the number recorded in Cross Village Township in the 2020 Presidential election — could impact county, state or national election results.

Emmet County Prosecutor James Linderman did not return a call seeking comment; Emmet County Sheriff Pete Wallin previously said the 2021 case was now "old news."

Clark said she's preparing for the May elections and beyond, though remains concerned about the continuing spread of misinformation.

"Clearly, it's unsettling, at the least," Clark said, of the Cross Village incident. "Anyone can, and should, educate themselves by reading credible news stories about how the process works."

©2022 The Record-Eagle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.