Berrien County Prosecutor visits commissioners

Published 6:30 pm Friday, February 3, 2023

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli updated Berrien County Commissioners Thursday on the prosecutor’s office’s activities in 2022 as well as his plans for 2023.  

Pierangeli reported that his office reviewed 4,157 felony charges which is more than in any other previous year. In addition, the office reviewed 3,913 misdemeanor charges brought to them from area police agencies. 

He noted that his office is not a rubber stamp and approving all charges brought to them from area police agencies. “Multiple assistant prosecutors are looking at charges every day to review them,” he said.  

“Last year in St. Joseph alone, 1,890 charges were denied for lack of evidence or because of questions of whether something was a crime,” he added. “Over 20 percent of cases in St. Joseph were not authorized, that shows that we take our oath seriously to represent the community. We don’t rubberstamp everything the police bring in.” 

Pierangeli said the prosecutor’s office is still down three attorneys from the 22 attorneys they are authorized to have but are having new people coming in the next few months. “Sometimes we run short, but I won’t hire just anybody, it’s important to have someone with a passion for the job,” he said. 

He did say the office has been blessed to have former Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic coming back on a part-time basis. “Mike Sepic is coming back to help,” he said. “I hired him mostly for mentoring, he’s following the younger attorneys in court, giving them advice and helping them prepare for trials.” 

He noted that Sepic has been a mentor to him in the 18 years he’s been in the office. “He’s been a tremendous mentor to me in my career too,” he said. “I’ve met with him once a month during the two years he’s been retired.” 

Other statistics he provided included the fact that his office conducted over 80 trials in 2022, 66 of them for felonies. He said the prosecutor’s office also saw a reduction in school threats reported after a large increase in late 2021 and early 2022. 

Pierangeli also outlined efforts being done to reduce crime in Benton Harbor and credited the extra help the city has received from the Michigan State Police over the years. He said violent crime in Benton Harbor increased just four-tenths of one percent from 2020 to 2021 and that property crimes dropped 31.5 percent in that same period. 

He said that the crime prevention squad of the Michigan State Police pulled 117 guns off the street in 2022 including one taken off a man during a traffic stop which eventually led to the person being arrested and convicted of murder.  

He said he’s working with new County Commissioner Chokwe Pitchford and other officials on reducing gun violence. “It’s important to have that dialogue,” he said. “It’s a dynamic issue that police presence alone doesn’t solve. We can’t arrest or police our way out of the problem. We have to have cooperation and solutions to try something different.” 

When asked by Pitchford, Pierangeli talked about the 117 guns taken off the street in recent months. He said that they are seeing very high powered pistols and rifles that can fire 30 rounds in under three seconds with one pull of the trigger. 

Ongoing community efforts he’s involved in include working with area pastors on criminal expungement and targeting elementary and middle school students for education efforts. He has talked to over 5,000 students about the dangers associated with cell phones and his office is also working with area schools to fight truancy and keeping kids in school. 

In 2023, he said his office will be working to bring a prosecutorial dashboard online to show what trials are going on, getting pastors into the jail to counsel inmates and into schools to mentor young people, developing a parenting peer program to help parents and possibly starting a sobriety court. 

He said he’s working at the state level with the Prosecuting Attorneys of Michigan on trial court funding as well as serving on the organization’s board of directors. 

Commissioners also received a brief legislative update from consultant Mike Krombeen of Midwest Strategies. He said the first appropriations bill passed through the now Democratic-controlled legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer which spent some covid funds. The new budget process kicks off next week.