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Federal judge orders former emergency manager to stand trial in civil case

One of Benton Harbor’s old emergency managers is expected to head to federal court next month.

Tony Saunders was Benton Harbor’s emergency manager from January 2013 until he declared the financial emergency over, in March 2014.

He’s accused of retaliating against the former chief of the city’s public safety department.

In June 2013, chief Roger Lange worried Saunders had discriminated against two white police officers when he laid them off. In total, about a dozen cops were let go. Saunders then promoted Dan McGinnis, a black officer, who also belonged to same historically black fraternity chapter at the University of Michigan as Saunders did.

Lange wrote Governor Snyder about his concerns. Ten days later, Saunders cut his pay by 25%.

Saunders did not return requests for comment. But in court documents, Saunders claims both moves were made to save the city money. He says there was no retaliation.

Lange says there was discussion of cutting his pay by about 5%, but not as much as 25%.

Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton says an official with the department discussed the allegations with Saunders that summer. But officials didn’t believe anything improper occurred.  

Late last month a federal judge refused to dismiss the case, saying there’s enough evidence against Saunders and McGinnis to send the case to trial.

Saunders now serves as one of the governor’s appointees to the Detroit Financial Review Commission. His term expires in November.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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