A Michigan National Guard veteran says Hillsdale County and state authorities wrongly forced him to register as a sex offender, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this month.
In the lawsuit — filed against Hillsdale County, the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy, a former assistant prosecutor, three Michigan State Police troopers, and two Michigan Sex Offender Registry analysts — Andrew Fether, 31, contends he never committed a sex-related crime and that the false accusation led to a six-month jail sentence and unwarranted suffering. He is seeking relief for compensatory, punitive, and exemplary damages.
Fether said while serving in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, a “disgruntled servicemember” accused him — as a prank — of having child pornography on his laptop.
Per U.S. military protocol, a military intelligence agency and the FBI conducted an investigation. According to the lawsuit, both agencies dispelled the charges soon after, finding no evidence to prove the servicemember’s claim.
The lawsuit stated a Michigan State trooper told Fether in 2010 that he was required to register as a sex offender, due to a “conviction for a sex crime” shortly after he moved to Hillsdale County.
According to the lawsuit, law enforcement decided to place Fether on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry list “in spite of the fact that no conviction had ever occurred, or recorded or documented in any way.”
Hillsdale County Sheriff Tim Parker could not be reached for comment, and a spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police said law enforcement cannot comment on ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit said an investigation — conducted under Hillsdale Prosecutor Neil Brady — justified law enforcement’s decision to list him as a sex offender by accusing Fether of a sex crime. Fether refused to register, however, because he said he had never been charged or arrested in connection with the Iraq incident.
This led to Fether’s arrest in 2011, for failure to comply with the Michigan Sex Offender Registry Act, which is a felony. A judge told Fether that if he provided the military paperwork proving he had been falsely accused, he would consider Fether’s case. When Fether could not find the documentation, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, after Brady agreed to drop the felony charge.
He again ignored the requirement to register as a sex offender with the HCSO, contending it was an unfounded demand. He was arrested again in July 2014 with a felony offense for failing to register. Fether once again pleaded no contest and was charged with another misdemeanor; he was sentenced to 180 days in jail, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Fether was released when U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, looked into the charges and failed to find a charge or conviction against the plaintiff.
“The FBI informed the Congressman that no such conviction existed, and that nothing, including any warrants for a sex offense, had ever been added to the National Crime Information Center, in spite of the fact that the defendant claimed to rely on NCIC information, in listing Fether as a sex offender,” the lawsuit reads.
Hillsdale County District Judge Sara Lisznyai had Fether removed from the sex offenders list immediately after. Brady told MLive that his office dropped two registry-related convictions after it became clear the accusations weren’t true, and that Fether is no longer on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry list. Brady said that no one looked closely at Fether’s case because it was atypical.
“No one knew about it,” he said. “This was out of state. It was in the military. It was unusual.”
Fether could not be reached for comment.
In the lawsuit, Fether contends that he has still had to face the negative effects of the false accusation, citing his daughter’s school function in May 2017 that the school prohibited him from attending.
Fether accused state officials of violating his constitutional rights and said they forced him to suffer “degradation, humiliation, mental anguish, emotional suffering, and embarrassment and other psychological and emotional injuries, past and future.”