By Jim Bloch
Josh Conant was already dead when Port Huron Police Officer Chelsea Koehn handcuffed him.
That’s what Conant’s uncle told the Port Huron City Council at its first meeting after the murder, held Nov. 13.
Conant, 26, was killed outside the Roche Bar in downtown Port Huron just after 2 a.m. on Nov. 4.
“I’m Josh Conant’s uncle,” said Mark Sanderson of Port Huron Township.
Sanderson said that he could not discuss the investigation into his nephew’s death.
“I can talk about your officer who arrested my dead nephew,” said Sanderson, as heard on the audio recording of the meeting posted on the city’s website. “He was already dead when he was handcuffed. He was dead. I seen the tape. Who trained her (the officer)? He was dead. I watched several tapes, several angles. I slow-mo’ed it. I guarantee that none of you watched tape of your nephew being killed.”
The police department, in a statement released after Conant’s death, said: “Once officers arrived on the scene, they helped secure the individual being held down by the bar staff and immediately recognized that the subject was unresponsive.”
Sanderson painted a picture of Port Huron as a wide-open drinking town, where partiers carry open intoxicants on the streets from bar to bar and police are not in evidence.
“In a couple of weeks, you’re going to have the busiest bar night of the year,” said Sanderson, referring to the night before Thanksgiving. “What’s your guys’ game plan? For your social district. Your drinking district. Put a cop on the corner of Michigan and Quay. That’s all it takes to stop incidents. That was outside on your guys’ sidewalk where my nephew was killed. If there were cops cars out there, I guarantee the bouncers wouldn’t have been out there.”
Sanderson thanked one member of the city council.
“I don’t know you people,” Sanderson said. “I want to start out by thanking Anita Ashford for coming to my nephew’s showing yesterday with your daughter. You were the only one who reached out to my family. That meant a lot to my sister.”
There was deafening applause from the big audience in the council chambers. City officials made no move to stop the clapping even though it is not permitted during the public comment portion of the agenda.
Sanderson asked if he could speak for more than the four-minute time limit. Mayor Pauline Repp said no. Audience members, getting restive, volunteered to give him their four minutes.
“We don’t do that,” said Repp.
“You just had a big fight at the Wrigley Center a couple weeks prior,” said Sanderson. “I used to go to the Roche twenty years ago. There was never a problem there. Now I hear there’s nothing but problems. Why is that? Because a retired police officer owns it?”
One of the owners, Steven Amey, is a retired detective with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
“Just sweep it under the rug — because he’s connected?” said Sanderson. “I’m not going to bash you guys, but I’m pissed. Mayor Repp, when you came out with your little statement after my nephew was killed on your streets, on your watch — that was terrible. You coulda come up with something better than that… Reach out to his mom and dad. They just buried their son today, drinking in your social district.”
Repp opened the meeting with a statement about Conant’s killing.
“I would like to make a statement about the tragic loss of life that our community experienced last week,” said Repp. “Joshua Conant should be home with his family tonight. He should be looking forward to spending time with his friends and family and he is not. As a mother, I cannot even for a moment think what his family must be going through right now. You have our community’s sincerest condolences. However, condolences are not enough, not for the preventable loss of life. For this reason, the following actions have already been taken. First, immediately following the event, (Police) Chief (Joseph) Platzer voluntarily requested that the Michigan State Police step in and take over the investigation as our officers were on scene that night. We want an independent review of what transpired that night. The family deserves to know what happened to their son and brother. Second, Prosecutor (Mike) Wendling has requested that the Attorney General’s office take over the prosecution of this case, which they have done. We have confidence that the Attorney General’s office will work with the Michigan State Police and bring Joshua’s family justice. For now, we are committed to cooperating with the ongoing investigation and prosecution.”
Repp asked for a moment of silence for Conant.
As many as 10 other residents criticized the city and its police department, demanding justice for Conant. One called for an independent review of the department. Another called for more police presence in the city’s social district.
Kevin Lindke, who works for Blue Water Healthy Living, in an expletive-filled tirade said that a lack of accountability in the police department led to Conant’s death.
Mayor Repp later had police remove Lindke from the council chambers for being disruptive. Police also removed Lindke from a council meeting in May 2022.
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.