KEEGO HARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — A joke so inappropriate –– it’s a felony?
A Keego Harbor man could spend up to five years in prison for comments he allegedly made to the city clerk on Election Day. Comments and actions that led her to believe he had infected her with COVID-19 - a harmful biological substance.
The city clerk believed her health and her life were in danger on Election Day because of the words and actions of one particular voter. That voter, Peter Trzos, says their interaction has been blown out of proportion and he can’t believe he’s facing felony criminal charges.
“Complete and utter shock,” says Peter Trzos who allegedly said “Here’s some COVID for you,” according to the city clerk’s statement to Keego Harbor police as he handed her his ballot, which he says he was forced to lick.
“I kinda thought it was a joke and I thought it was funny at the time and then I was like ‘oh my gosh,’ I’m going to be arraigned and out on bond and have court fees and drug tested," Trzos said. "I mean, you lose your whole life just because someone accused you of something."
The police report says Trzos brought his mail-in ballot into city hall on Election Day with “a very abrasive demanding attitude toward the city clerk.”
Trose says he didn’t trust the ballot to arrive on time through the mail. He says he didn’t trust city clerk Tammy Neeb either because of their differing political beliefs and recent concerning interactions.
“So I wanted to turn it in, in-person, and I wanted to feed it into the machine myself because I did not trust Tammy,” Trzos said.
His attorney Nicholas Somberg explains what happened next was at the clerk’s request.
“The envelope wasn’t licked. It wasn’t sealed closed. And Mr. Trzos didn’t want to lick the ballot, but this clerk made him remove his mask to lick the ballot,” Somberg said.
Trzos adds, “And I’m supposed to remove my mask and lick an envelope that someone else has handled just to turn it in? If anything I am the one who was threatened."
The police report says Trzos made a “deliberate facial/mouth motion of building up saliva in his mouth.” That he “vigorously licked the ballot” and “forcefully put it in the city clerk’s hand.”
Trzos attorney, Somberg, said his client "allegedly made some sort of joke about COVID being on the ballot or him getting COVID because of him doing what they told him to do."
But the clerk wasn’t laughing. She called her husband telling him to “stay at their secondary home as a precaution,” according to her statement. She feared she had been exposed to a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus.
Trzos faced a judge via Zoom on felony charges of falsely claiming to expose someone to a harmful biological substance. Somberg says it’s a gross overreach.
“They need to dismiss these charges immediately and apologize to Mr. Trzos,” Somberg said.
Keego Harbor Police Chief John Fitzgerald said in a statement:
“Though requesting charges through the Oakland County Prosecutors Office against him for the crime of “Harmful Substance/Device-Person Falsely Exposed” may seem like an overreach to some, we believe it was appropriate in this circumstance due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how it disrupted workers in an active polling place during a presidential election. Though he may have construed this to a glib statement or a joke we had to look at the totality of the circumstances.
This was not an act of political defiance, such as not wearing a mask in a public place in violation of health department rules, but it was an overt act, that fit the current criminal code definition as determined by the Prosecutor’s Office, that was specifically directed at an individual with intent to make them believe they are being exposed to a harmful biological substance. It has the semblance of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater only in this case it was threatening COVID exposure in a crowded polling place during a pandemic. Additionally, according to the City Clerk, the subjects absentee ballot was processed and voted as required, though poll workers used extra PPE and precautions while handling it.”
Trzos has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 4 via Zoom.