Charges Dismissed In Tawas City, Michigan, After Couple Is Arrested For Owning Chickens

The chicken fight in Tawas City has resulted in the loss of two city officials and recalls for council members, but the family with chickens have seen their charges dropped.

After what was called a massive “chicken fight” in a small Michigan town, the Tawas City attorney dismissed charges against a couple that had been arrested for the crime of having chickens on their property. Phillip and Theresa Hurst were accused of violating city rules, but according to WNEM News, the Tawas City couple argued that they believed, at the time, the Michigan Right to Farm Act afforded them the right to keep the chickens on their property. They reportedly didn’t realize that, this spring, changes were made by Michigan officials, stripping many in Michigan of their rights that once were used to trump local ordinances.

“Never been to jail, never been booked. I felt so humiliated,” Theresa Hurst told WNEM News. “We were not granted due process. We needed an explanation about why we couldn’t keep chickens.”

The charges against the Tawas City couple were dropped on October 21, the Iosco County News-Herald reported Wednesday. The couple had been facing two separate charges against them. One charge was for having junk in their yard and the second, more publicized charge was for raising chickens on their property.

According to the Hurst family, they followed the proper protocol because the suggested action after being cited for the chickens was either to remove the chickens from the property or request a hearing within two weeks. The Hurst family told WBKB 11 News that they did request that hearing, but after visiting and calling Tawas City’s City Hall, they hadn’t heard back from Tawas City’s City Council until after the arrest warrants were issued.

“Instead, we were given a warrant for both of our arrests, so we had to go to jail, we had to post bail,” the Hursts explained.

The charges caused a heated debate within the city, which ultimately resulted in more than just ruffling some feathers, according to the Detroit News.

“A young couple’s attempt to raise chickens led to their arrest, the resignation of the mayor and city manager, the possible recall of two City Council members, a Michigan State Police investigation and endless chicken jokes.

When Mayor Kane Kelly tried to help the couple, he was pressured to resign during a meeting that may have violated the state’s open meetings law.”

Former Mayor Kelly said he was called into a special, private meeting after helping the couple. According to the Detroit News, after the couple removed the chickens, the former Tawas City Manager Mark Moers told the former mayor that if the Hurst family just plead guilty to their chargers, the city would not seek any punishment for their alleged crimes. Moers said the city would just set up an injunction to prevent the chickens from returning to the Hursts’ residence. Thinking a crisis had been avoided, the former mayor forwarded that statement by Moers on to the family and the Iosco County News-Herald, which had been following the Tawas City “chicken fight.”

The Tawas City couple ended up not trusting in the deal and pleaded “not guilty” at the arraignment.

After news of the injunction broke, Tawas City Council Members Dave Dickman, Janelle Walmsley, and Kim Miles presented Mayor Kelly with a pre–written letter of resignation and allegedly threatened legal action if he refused to sign his own letter of resignation. The Tawas City officials at that meeting allegedly demanded the mayor’s resignation, because he informed the local newspaper about the injunction and the request for the guilty plea.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Myles asked Kelly, according to the Detroit News report on the chicken fiasco. “You’re in some serious trouble.”

Allegedly, the Tawas City attorney told the then-mayor that he embarrassed the city and should have stayed out of the chicken fight. The attorney told Kelly that he could face criminal charges for “mis-governance and malfeasance in public office.”

In October, Moers submitted his own resignation to Tawas City. Kelly filed a complaint with the Michigan State Police saying that Dickman and Walmsley violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act, because they allegedly did not discuss presenting Kelly with his own resignation letter with the other members of the council. Tawas City’s website still features a blurb seeking someone to fill the City Manager position.

Soon after, recall petitions were started for Tawas City council members involved.

“What goes around comes around,” Councilman Dave Schantz told the Detroit News in support of Kelly. “They’ve made this part of Michigan look like a joke.”

Meanwhile, the Hursts and others in the rural hamlet are working on changing the Tawas City ordinance, so that they can one day welcome back their chickens.

[Photo via Tawas City]