McDonough attorney responds to letter's claims

Hills: McDonough 'did not leave scene' of May 11 accident

CENTREVILLE — Michael Hills, the attorney for St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough, responded Wednesday to claims made in a letter calling for his client’s resignation as county prosecutor.

The response comes following Tuesday’s St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners meeting, where the board very briefly discussed the letter, which called on commissioners to ask for McDonough’s resignation. The letter was signed by over 20 constituents and local officials, including 59th District Rep. Aaron Miller.

Commission Chair Dennis Allen said the commissioners will discuss the letter further, as well as what options the county can take, at their next executive committee meeting Wednesday, July 29 at 8 a.m. via Zoom teleconference.

Hills, in a phone conversation with the Commercial-News, responded to the letter’s characterization of the crash that McDonough was involved in on May 11 in Lockport Township, which led to his arrest and, on June 23, charges from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office of operating under the influence of alcohol and having open intoxicants in a motor vehicle.

The letter claims that McDonough reportedly left the scene of the accident in the 17000 block of Lover’s Lane, and that “according to the preliminary breath test at the scene on May 11, Mr. McDonough was above the legal intoxication limit for driving” and “several hours later, the DataMaster breath tests indicated it fell below the legal limit.”

Hills responded to those claims, saying McDonough "did not leave the scene" of the accident, and that his client was below the legal intoxication limit.

“I think it should be known that Mr. McDonough did not leave the scene. He turned his car around and stayed there, called 911 himself and waited for the officers to get there. He cooperated with the officers, did everything they asked him to do,” Hills said. “They transported him then to do the DataMaster, which he cooperated with, and that was not hours later, but was actually more like an hour and 20 minutes from dispatch with two 15-minute waiting periods, so it was really under an hour. There was no delay for my client, the officers acted appropriately, and he was below the legal limit when he got to the DataMaster.”

Hills went on to say that McDonough was only in jail for a few hours, and was then released and “immediately” transported to a hospital to be treated for “underlying serious medical conditions.” While Hills declined to mention the specific medical condition that prompted the trip to the hospital, he said McDonough was in the hospital for 34 days, half of that time in an induced coma.

“It was a serious issue he was dealing with at the time of his accident,” Hills said. “He’s still going through occupational therapy and physical therapy to recover.”

Hills also responded to the letter’s claims about McDonough’s professional conduct, including the claims of a “catastrophic backlog of criminal cases” due to a “habitual lack of attendance at his workplace for the last several years.” Hills said, in his experience, McDonough has “always acted professionally.”

“He has always on top of the case, from the cases I’ve had with him,” Hills said. “I didn’t notice any backlog. Of course, there’s a huge backlog now with every court, I suspect, across the nation. I tried a case two weeks ago that I think was the first jury trial that I know of since COVID. Of course there’s a backlog of cases, and it has nothing to do with John McDonough. It has to do with a global pandemic.”

McDonough faces a pre-trial hearing on the charges against him Friday in St. Joseph County 3B District Court. The case will be presided over by Kalamazoo County District Court Judge Vincent C. Westra. McDonough could face 93 days in jail for the charge of operating under the influence, and he could face 90 days in jail for the open intoxicant charge.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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