Michigan’s attorney general is prosecuting a misdemeanor indecent exposure case in Port Austin in which authorities said a 67-year-old part-time Huron County sheriff’s deputy masturbated in front of a window in his home.
Patrick O’Brien, who the sheriff’s office said was part time, was arraigned Thursday and charged with three counts of aggravated indecent exposure, which carries a penalty of up to 2 years in prison. There was no mention of a motive.
“Since I took office,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “I have consistently advocated for law enforcement accountability.”
But even the attorney general’s spokesman said this was an unusual case for the state’s top cop, who focuses on felonies and higher-profile concerns, such as protecting the state’s natural resources, and lead contamination of Flint’s water supply and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The attorney general’s office said it ended up with the exposure case because the Huron County prosecutor recused himself to avoid conflict of interest.
O’Brien exposed himself between July 26 and 27 to a 52-year-old Port Austin woman, according to the Michigan State Police investigation, . He was off-duty at the time, and the deputy and the woman knew each other, but were not related, the attorney general’s office said.
Huron County Sheriff Kelly Hanson said Friday that he doesn’t know much about the case, although he added that he heard through a Port Austin resident that there may be video of the incident. Hanson said O’Brien has been suspended without pay.
“We can’t, obviously, have someone working for us if these type of allegations have merit to them,” the sheriff said, but added that the department is waiting for the outcome of the case. “There’s two sides to every story, right?”
Hanson said O’Brien had been with the department for about five years and there had been no other disciplinary concerns during his time with the department.
For the most part, Hanson said, Huron County is a quiet community with only about 31,000 residents, but in the summer, tourists flood the area and that’s why the department needs part-time deputies. The deputy, the sheriff confirmed, is divorced from another part-time deputy, Mealissa O’Brien.
In 2012, the Midland Daily News published an article about the O’Briens and how they met and married. Mealissa O’Brien, it said, briefly moved to Tennessee to be with her husband, who retired from the Chattanooga Police Department.
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Nessel, who announced the charges in a news release, used the case to spell out her stand on police misconduct at a time when the public increasingly has been demanding more scrutiny of law enforcement officers.
“My office will take action against anyone who breaks the law – regardless of whether they have a badge or not,” Nessel said. “Police officers are expected to know the rules, and we cannot turn a blind eye to those who choose to neglect their duties and violate the very laws they are meant to enforce.”