County: Detainment order based on 1978 public health code

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County judge is setting in motion a long-standing order that is causing controversy.

Kent County Judge Mark Trusock enacted what he called a pre-existing order that gives police and the Kent County Health Department the power to involuntary detain anyone deemed a public health threat, or in this case, suspected of having COVID-19.

>> View order here

“We don’t want them infecting literally hundreds of people and potentially causing deaths,” Trusock said.

The order gives health or peace officers permission to hold and transport anyone believed to be infected to an involuntary isolation facility until a physician clears them for release.

Health officials define someone as a possible carrier of the virus if they have previously tested positive, awaiting a test result or have a fever of at least 100.4 degrees.

“Quite frankly, the county had never dealt with this before, and I don’t think our courts have never dealt with this before,” Trusock said.

The order also allows police to involuntary detain people with COVID-19 symptoms who refuse to quarantine at the guidance of a medical professional. Authorities told News 8 they will be held at the Kent County Correctional Facility for up to 24 hours. 

“We’re calling on Judge Trusock to rescind this order,” said David Kallman, senior legal counsel for the Great Lakes Justice Center.

Kallman said Trusock’s order violates both Michigan and the United States constitutions.

“It’s violating the constitution, the Fourth Amendment, that you can’t be seized or detained or have your liberty taken away without due process or without probable cause. Under Michigan’s constitution, it says the same thing,” Kallman said.

Kent County officials pushed back, saying health officers have the legal right to carry out the order, citing the Public Health Code of 1978.

“Public health officers, under the health code, have an obligation to protect the public health, and the health code gives them certain authorities,” said Linda Howell, corporate counsel for Kent County. “Part of those authorities is the ability to get a detention order.”

Kent County authorities told News 8 they will likely ask Trusock to declare his order expired next week. They said they haven’t needed it because so many people are taking this crisis seriously.