Berrien County Courts begin four-phase plan to reopen

NILES – A Benton Harbor woman was sentenced to prison for drug dealing in Berrien County Trial Court Monday.

Kate Alexandra Crandall, 27, of Benton Harbor, pleaded guilty to delivery of heroin/fentanyl and was sentenced Monday by Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock to 18 months to 20 years in prison.

The incident occurred April 5, 2019, in the 500 block of Colfax in Benton Harbor, Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Jeffrey Taylor reported. Crandall was originally charged as a habitual offender.

In another sentencing, a local resident was sentenced to probation for fourth-degree child abuse.

Mariano Salazar-Juarez, 44, of Niles pleaded guilty to fourth-degree child abuse and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, credit for 170 days already served and $285 in fines and costs.

He can have no contact with the victim and must take parenting classes as part of his probation, Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky said. Salazar-Juarez was originally charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct against a child under the age of 13 but had that charge dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

The incident occurred Jan. 1, 2019, in Niles Township. The victim was a 10-year-old boy.

Outside of Monday’s sentencings, Berrien County courts are starting the first phase of a four-phase plan for reopening courts and returning to full capacity after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. In March, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered local courts to limit access to courthouses and postpone many court hearings where defendants were not in custody.

In an order dated May 28, Berrien County Chief Trial Judge Mabel Mayfield outlined the steps Berrien County is taking to reopen courts. The steps include guidance for both court employees and the public.

Employees are asked to self-screen for any COVID-19 symptoms. Those with any symptoms or who otherwise feel sick are told not to report to work or go home if they get sick while at work. Vulnerable employees and others will be able to work remotely when possible.

Employees working in the two county courthouses are maintaining social distancing and barriers have been placed between work spaces. Employees are required to wear masks in public spaces and wear gloves when handling mail. In addition, surfaces are being disinfected frequently.

Visitors will be screened by court personnel and security before entering buildings. Questions asked will include whether the person has a fever of more than 100.4 degrees, a cough, shortness of breath or specific COVID-19 symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, chills, loss of taste or smell, headaches and muscle pain.

People will also be asked if they have had contact with someone with a COVID-19 diagnosis or have traveled internationally in the last 14 days. Those answering yes to any of the questions will not be allowed in the buildings. Documents will be accepted from those not allowed in and any court hearing they have will be rescheduled or done remotely.

As for court proceedings, in-person court proceedings are limited to 10 people, and members of the public will be required to wear face masks, which will be provided when needed. Those asked to leave the courthouses will be given the opportunity to conduct their business remotely.

Full capacity in terms of services and access will be achieved only in phase four, according to the guidelines set down by the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has also emphasized the importance of increasing the use of virtual technology to mitigate risk as well as to expand public access.

Across county lines, Cass County is still finalizing its reopening plan.

Cass County Court Administrator Carol Montavon Bealor said Friday that the county is in the process of working on their reopening plans. The Law and Courts Building as well as the county administration building remain closed to the public.

She noted that many court proceedings have been postponed due to the pandemic. Criminal and civil court case information is available on the court’s website including public video feeds and dockets. That website is casscourtsmi.org.

She said that criminal jury trials are now postponed until the end of June per Michigan Supreme Court orders. She said realistically to not expect jury trials to restart until well beyond that point although there is no formal confirmation of that yet.

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