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Year in Review 2020: Ten Michigan stories you might have missed

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

There was no shortage of news in 2020. It felt like major stories were breaking daily, not only across the globe, but right here in Michigan. Narrowing down all of those major stories to a list of 10 was no easy task. But here are some of the biggest stories that came out of Michigan this year that you may have missed.

"It's still not right." An investigation into Lakeside Academy.


Michigan Radio collaborated with a team of public radio reporters, led by APM Reports, to investigate what happened at Lakeside Academy after the death of student, Cornelius Frederick, and to learn more about the for-profit company that ran Lakeside.

The team reviewed thousands of pages of material, including police reports, financial documents and inspection records.

The reporting revealed years of problems at Sequel facilities in multiple states. Documents from the state of Michigan and interviews with former staff show the problems at Lakeside had been getting worse in the years and months leading up to Fredrick’s death. The state of Michigan, which was Fredrick's legal guardian while he was at Lakeside, kept records of the problems. But it failed to prevent Fredrick's death.

How the alleged plot to kidnap a governor unfolded, and how the FBI tracked every move

In mid-August, they panicked. By that point, prosecutors allege they’d been talking for months, batting around ideas, honing a plan. They’d found each other through a network of connections inside the world of Michigan militias. Even in that world, full of people who love guns and hate the government, they were extreme. They threw around ideas no one else would consider. Storming the state Capitol building in Lansing. Destroying police vehicles with “Molotov cocktails.” Kidnapping a governor.

After her patients died alone, Detroit doctor raises money for tablets

Dr. Luda Khait-Vlisides had to look through her patient’s phone to find his daughter’s number, so she could tell her her father had died.

“This was very shortly after she’d talked to him,” she says. “I spent half an hour on the phone with her in the back hallway, crying together. Normally we have these conversations, good and bad, whatever conversations it is -  in the family room [in the hospital.]... And I couldn't do that. And it just broke my heart. The family member was alone at home and had really no immediate support around her.”

Other hospitals were already using tablets to allow patients to call and video chat with family members who couldn’t visit under the COVID-era restrictions.

“And I thought, this is something that we actually need,” Khait-Vlisides says. “Some of our patients may not have an iPhone or an Android phone, where they have the capability to talk to their family members through, you know, by seeing them.”

An unplanned march. An unlikely leader. And, for one night at least, a peaceful resolution.

Brian Jennings stands at the front of a crowd of protesters who marched through Grand Rapids Wednesday.

Hundreds of angry people with no leader, and no plan. A city, and a police department, on edge. That was Grand Rapids, less than a week after protests downtown turned to destruction and looting. But that night, things turned out differently.

Suddenly, this man they’ve never met, this man talking about God, he has their attention. He delivers a rousing speech, making it up as he goes. His name, he tells me, is Brian Jennings. He’s from Chicago. Only been in Michigan a year and a half. He had only been in Grand Rapids two weeks.

Residents living around lake that vanished after dam failure say restoration the only option

In the weeks after the Edenville Dam failed, and flooded Midland, the focus turned on why it failed. But the people who live upstream from the dam also wanted to know when, or if, they would get their lake back.

Scott Govitz is the associate vice president of workforce and economic development at Mid-Michigan College. Govitz said tourism dollars and homes on the lake make up a significant part of the county’s sales and property tax base.

“We have a county that is so reliant upon tourism and these lakes and streams...that are jewels...that we must repair this and get back on our feet,” Govitz said. “The worst case scenario could be bankruptcies of magnitudes that we haven’t seen before.”

For the first time, multiple women speak out about former U-M provost's alleged sexual misconduct

Emily Renda’s ex-boyfriend was stalking her. He was showing up at work and her house, where she lived alone, she says. The police told her to tell her coworkers, in case he turned up at the office again. That’s how Martin Philbert started offering her rides home. Philbert would go on to be named the University of Michigan’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs in 2017, but at the time in 2012, he was still dean of the School of Public Health.

What Renda didn’t know at the time was that Philbert, a rock star in the field of toxicology, with a crisp BBC accent and degrees from the College of Arts and Technology in Cambridge and the London University Royal Postgraduate Medical School, who served on prestigious national advisory boards and has more than 150 publications to his name, had already been reported for sexual misconduct at least twice in his career at the University of Michigan.

Multiple families accused man "living single for the Lord" of child sexual assault. He's still free.

A drawing done by one of the young girls during a counseling session.

Jamie Treadwell is like a big kid. That’s how Rob and Crystal Barretts’ daughters would later describe him to police. When it warmed up that spring, Treadwell washed his car at their house, and started a water fight with the girls.

“They were — really, really, really liked him,” said Crystal. “I mean, like, really liked him.”

In 2015, Jamie Treadwell had just moved back to Michigan from Europe. He co-founded and ran a program for at-risk youth in Northern Ireland. He was new in town. So he asked to join Rob Barrett and his family at their Grand Rapids church.

“I really felt honored that he would want to spend time with us. This amazing guy with all this stuff going on has taken an interest in us.”

U.S. Supreme Court deals rare victory to Flint residents suing over the city's water crisis

The United States Supreme Court dealt a victory in January to some Flint Michigan residents seeking damages for the city’s contaminated drinking water. The court’s action cleared a barrier residents faced trying to sue government officials.

Lawyers for the government officials being sued had claimed they’re protected by something called “qualified immunity,” which is a legal doctrine shielding government officials.

But even with the decision, some Flint residents feared they were still a long way from getting compensation.

Former U of M violin professor arrested, charged with transporting minor for sex

Former University of Michigan professor Stephen Shipps was arrested at his Ann Arbor home on two charges of transporting a minor girl across state lines to engage in sexual activity.

In an indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan alleges the crimes took place in February and March of 2002, as well as in June and July of 2002. According to the indictment, Shipps "knowingly transported a young girl, who was under 18 years old, across state lines, and Shipps intended to engage in sexual activity with her.”

If convicted of both counts, Shipps faces up to 15 years in federal prison.

"I can sum it up in one word, and that is: nightmare." 10 years after massive oil spill in Michigan

One of the worst oil spills into an inland waterway in U.S. history happened right here in Michigan, 10 years ago this past July.

Enbridge’s Line 6B was carrying diluted bitumen. It’s a dark, thick oil from Canada’s tar sands. The pipeline split open in a wetland near the small town of Marshall.

Oil gushed into Talmadge Creek, then the Kalamazoo River, polluting almost 40 river miles. Enbridge estimated more than 840,000 gallons of oil spilled. The EPA put the amount at more than one million gallons.

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Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.