Lisa Putman was a 28-year old CPS worker employed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (“MDHHS”) in Macomb County. She was assigned to the home of two sisters, Jacqueline and Josephine Verellen, where Josephine’s children living in unsafe conditions. Ms. Putnam advised the sisters that, as long as they cleaned up the house, she would just take the children to their parent’s home and not remove them. Unfortunately, the sisters could not keep the home clean and Ms. Putman later returned to inform them that the child would be taken away into foster care. On May 20, 1998, a missing persons report was filed for Lisa Putman after her family could not reach her, and police determined that the last place she was scheduled to be before her disappearance was the Verellen sisters’ home. When the sisters were interviewed, they admitted they had attacked Ms. Putman when she appeared for her scheduled appointment at their home and informed police where her body was dumped. Lisa Putman was hit a total of 22 times with a hammer and then suffocated to death. This story is a tragic reminder of just how dangerous a CPS worker’s job can be.
The Michigan Legislature passed and the governor signed into law Public Act 22 of 2001, called “Lisa’s Law”, which made it a crime to threaten or physically harm a MDHHS employee. As a deterrent to prevent people from engaging in violence against CPS workers, the possible criminal penalties are more severe than regular assault and battery charges or threatening behavior against non-MDHHS employees.
Effective September 1, 2001, Lisa’s Law provides for the following:
- “A person who communicates to any person a threat that he or she will physically harm an individual who is an employee of the family independence agency and who does so because of the individual’s status as an employee of that agency is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.81c(1).
- “[A] person who assaults or assaults and batters an individual while the individual is performing his or her duties as an employee of the family independence agency or because of the individual’s status as an employee of that agency and causes the individual any physical injury is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.81c(2).
- “A person who assaults or assaults and batters an individual while the individual is performing his or her duties as an employee of the family independence agency or because of the individual’s status as an employee of that agency and causes the individual serious impairment of body function is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a fine of not less than $1,000.00 or more than $5,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.81c(3).
Pursuant to MCL 750.81c(5), “serious impairment of a body function” includes, but is not limited to, 1 or more of the following:
- (a) Loss of a limb or loss of use of a limb.
- (b) Loss of a foot, hand, finger, or thumb or loss of use of a foot, hand, finger, or thumb.
- (c) Loss of an eye or ear or loss of use of an eye or ear.
- (d) Loss or substantial impairment of a bodily function.
- (e) Serious visible disfigurement.
- (f) A comatose state that lasts for more than 3 days.
- (g) Measurable brain or mental impairment.
- (h) A skull fracture or other serious bone fracture.
- (i) Subdural hemorrhage or subdural hematoma.
- (j) Loss of an organ.
A conviction or sentence imposed for threatening or assaulting a MDHHS worker does not preclude a conviction or sentence for a violation of any other appliable law. MCL 750.81c(4). An offender can also be charged and convicted of felonious assault (if a weapon was used), assault with intent to do great bodily harm, or even assault with intent to murder!
It is a misdemeanor offense if someone threatens physical harm to a MDHHS worker even if there is no actual intention or plan to carry out physical harm. Criminal liability attaches if such a threat is communicated orally, by text message, email or paper correspondence. In addition, the statute does not require that the MDHHS worker is actually “on the clock” when the threats or assaults are made. If a text message is sent to the family independence agency employee after hours, then a prosecutor can still charge this crime if the facts and circumstances suggest that the threat was sent “because of the individual’s status as an employee of that agency”.
A person charged with threatening or assaulting a MDHHS worker needs to get a skilled criminal defense lawyer on their side right away. You can be sure that prosecutors and judges will not take these charges lightly. A good attorney will assert any and all available defenses and hold the prosecutor to proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if the evidence against you is strong, a criminal defense lawyer can negotiate a plea bargain to a lesser offense or obtain a sentence agreement that keeps you out of jail.
If you or a loved one are accused of any crime and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.