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Posted on Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 5:21 p.m.

Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, cousin ordered to pay $115,000 in sexual harassment case

By Art Aisner

A federal jury today found Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson and his property management company fiscally liable for allowing a manager to sexually harass female tenants.

Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, and Glenn Johnson, a distant cousin, were ordered to pay a total of $115,000 to the six women by the jury late this morning, officials said. The panel of five men and two women deliberated for more than 10 hours following the week-long trial in Detroit federal court.

Court records show the jury ordered both Peterson and Johnson to pay compensatory and punitive damages to be split among the six women. 

Johnson, who works security at Ypsilanti High School, must pay $51,775 in punitive damages for his repeated sexual advances to the women. Records show Johnson is also required to pay $36,510 in compensatory charges.

Thumbnail image for Ronnie_Peterson_March_2010.jpg

Ronnie Peterson and his property management company fiscally liable for allowing a manager to sexually harass female tenants.

Peterson will be required to pay a total of $26,295 in punitive damages, with the largest chunk - $7,590 - going to plaintiff Sharee McClendon. She testified she had sex with Johnson following threats of police harassment and eviction.

All the victims are single mothers who were on the verge of homelessness and were vulnerable to manipulation, government attorneys said.

At least two of the women indicated they told Peterson or his wife about the sexual harassment, but they did nothing. 

The government sued Johnson, Peterson, and his company, First Pitch LLC, in 2009, saying the sexual harassment violated the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing by race, color, religion, sex, or familial status.

Peterson, who won the primary Tuesday and advances to the general election for a chance to serve another two-year term on the county board, denied knowing about the pattern of harassment. He testified he knew most of the women through familial ties for friends, all of them had his telephone numbers, and that as an elected official, he was easily accessible.

He and attorney Don Ferris also argued none of the women told police, prosecutors, or even judges presiding over their evictions about the harassment, and four fought to stay in his Ypsilanti Township rental units.

Peterson could not be reached for comment following the verdict.

Ferris said Peterson was happy the jury didn't find the government's request of $350,000 in damages reasonable. He also said jurors made the legal distinction that Johnson, who was an unpaid volunteer, was an agent of Peterson's company.

"They didn't find that (Peterson) was discriminatory against anyone," Ferris said. "He respects the jury's decision and will do what he can to pay."

Johnson, who also testified per a government subpoena, said he thought the case was going in their favor after the women couldn't provide specific details about the time, places and locations of the alleged sexual advances and encounters. He said he also believed their testimony about seeking money from Peterson and the company would sway jurors.

“We were both totally shocked,” Johnson said of his and Peterson’s reaction upon hearing the verdict. “I mean, I tried helping these people with housing, and this is how it ends?”

He said he intends to appeal and wants to sue the women for defamation.

Government officials said the case was a significant triumph for women who face harassment and unwarranted intimidation.

“Today’s verdict sends a message to landlords and rental agents that they cannot abuse their positions and sexually harass tenants,” Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a written statement. “Women should be safe from sexual harassment in their own homes.”

Details about when and how the payments will be made have not been determined.

Art Aisner is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Tue, Aug 10, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

@MichMash: I am appalled at your comment about the "breeding business" when referring to the women who bought this case against Ronnie Peterson and his property manager for sexual harassment. Because these are low income women who may have had some contact with law enforcement, they are disparaged for daring to exercise their legal rights and are accused of having ulterior motives. Would you have used this language to refer to any other group of women who dared to exercise their constitutional rights. Mr. Peterson's properties has been a concern of the Township for code violations; he represents one of the highest poverty rate area in the county, one with a high crime rate, low educational achievement, citizens with a number of health issues, deteriorating housing, yet in all of his 12 years as a commissioner, he has not spearheaded one credible program to address these issues on behalf of his constituency. Perhaps his main concern and commitment is to people like Mr Ranzani who supports and bankroll his purchase of these properties.


Mon, Aug 9, 2010 : 8:50 a.m.

I've been incredibly disappointed at the coverage of this story (Which has seemed biased in favor of the defendants throughout). For another perspective, consider reading the summary posted on the department of justice's website:


Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

Stephen Lange Ranzini. Just needed to comment about the honorable Ronnie Peterson. These excerpts are from a case in the Michigan Court of Appeals concerning the firing of the Ypsilanti Township fire chief in 1986. Ronnie Peterson was on the Ypsilanti Township Civil Service Commission around this time and gets mentioned a couple of times. "More than ten years ago, petitioner, then fire chief of Ypsilanti Township, perpetrated a fraud against the citizens of Ypsilanti Township. In April 1986, petitioner conspired with members of the Ypsilanti Township Civil Service Commission (YTCSC) to falsify a list of the most qualified applicants for four new firefighter positions." "1. That on or about April 21, 1986, you met with Civil Service Commissioner Ronnie Peterson and discussed altering, with no basis, the Civil Service eligibility list that had already been prepared by the Civil Service Commission. That you aided Mr. Peterson in preparing an altered list that contained names of individuals who had never taken the written test nor the oral exam to be eligible for hire." "In response to these questions, you materially misrepresented to this Township Board subcommittee certain facts concerning your awareness that the list given to you by Commissioner Peterson was fraudulent;" "One YTCSC member, Ron Peterson, was convicted for his role in the fraud." I could not find info from Ronnie Petersons court case otherwise I would have posted that. I believe he was convicted of a misdemeanor. He has a history. I will leave it to the readeers of this blog to decide how honorable he is.

Bill French

Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 7:55 a.m.

When Ronnie Peterson became aware of the allegations against his property manager he immediately fired the man. This action is consistent with a long time, well-respected member of our community; and in my opinion, validates his statement that he had no prior knowledge of the actions of his property manager.


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 9:40 p.m.

Would you say that Mr Peterson is exempt from "Ethic's"? Heavan forbid. Once you become a public offical you have to walk a very thin line to maintain your air of "respectabilaty",especially in this day and age.. I am not the person that say's that he is at fault, it just seems to me that the "left hand found out what the right hand was doing". To bad Ronnie isn't a bad person, he was thinkin with "the little Head" this time..


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 8:47 p.m.

@Stephen Lange Ranzini You keep this up and you will come off like all the Kwame supporters who blindly followed a person down the drain!


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 1:52 p.m.

Thanks for the corrections and additional information

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 1:16 p.m.

@Robert M.: This was a civil court case not a criminal trial. There is no such thing as a "civil crime", this isn't a criminal trial but a regular court case. The women sued Ronnie Peterson for $350,000 and got $26,295 from him because of the alleged actions of his company's property manager. In a criminal trail, the jury is instructed to convict the defendant if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil court case it is much different. The jury should pick a winner based on all the evidence, but there is always room for sympathy and doubt. If the jury had thought that Ronnie Peterson or his property manager was lying, I suspect they would have hit him with a lot more than $26,295. Sexual harassment is not tolerable under any circumstance. However my interpretation of this verdict is that they held the landlord accountable for the "alleged actions" of his property manager, because four woman came forward, but not fully accountable because "the women couldn't provide specific details about the time, places and locations of the alleged sexual advances and encounters." It is my opinion that the jury felt some sympathy for the women, but even the property manager didn't get hit with the full amount the plaintiffs were asking for. However because four women stepped forward, the jury decided to give them some benefit of the doubt. It sounds to me like after 10 hours of deliberation, the jury split the verdict so they could go home and get on with their lives. In a corporation no manager should tolerate sexual harassment, however it is questionable in my mind that four women came forward but none of them can provide any details of what happened. Management should take full responsibility if sexual harassment did occur, however the board of directors should fire a manager only if the manager was aware of harassment and took no action or actually covered it up. After writing the above, I called Ronnie and he answered his phone on the second ring. I found out that he fired the property manager three years ago after the allegations came out and that the events in question occurred five years ago. The women didn't come forward for two years. @RobertinSaline: Ronnie formed First Pitch LLC two years after the events at issue in the court case based on advice he received from his accountants and lawyer as to how to better organize his investments, since before that, the homes were all owned in his own name (which isn't recommended - for all you rental landlords out there please take notice). Lastly, Ronnie's home phone number is listed here on the Washtenaw County website:

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 1:02 p.m.

Mr. Peterson is not "chair of the county commission". He is a commissioner but to my knowledge has never served as an officer of the BOC. (There is no such thing as the "County Commission", only a Board of Commissioners, commonly abbreviated BOC.)


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 10:52 a.m.

Peterson is chair of the County Commission. This incident demands more thorough reporting. First Pitch LLC was registered only in Dec 2007 with the state of Michigan and despite Peterson's claims, First Pitch contact info is hard to find. doesn't it make sense that the point of contact for renters is the guy that comes around to collect rent? The same guy that is hitting on the women? How many of these women are searching on the state website trying to figure out who/how to contact? Were rents collected in cash? is this rent being reported as income? Only 2 properties in Ypsilanti are shown owned by Peterson - both on worden - are these the locations where the women lived? Does Peterson get rent subsidy payments from MSHDA (Michigan state housing housing development authority)? Peterson must take responsibility for his agent's actions.


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 6:59 a.m.

So much for Ypsilanti's renaissance. No one will forget this.


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 4:02 a.m.

As my earlier post was removed, I ask again why it was necessary to name of one of the plaintiffs and publish that she had sex with the man harassing her, when she was found by a jury to be the victim. Also, to MichMass, Do you know all of the citizens on this jury well enough to know their political persuasion? Did you sit through the entire trial and listen to the testimony as this jury did? The conclusion you made by reading a short "report" of the trial is quite a leap. A jury for federal court would be made up of people from the entire district and could be made up of people from any political affiliation. Your quotes are from the guilty party's lawyer. The jury found against his defendant.


Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 1:26 a.m.

This is sad and this is wrong! Ronnie Peterson is not liable for the actions of two consenting adults. These women never complained to Peterson because they were not paying rent. They sought to use sex in exchange for rental payments and were furious when they discovered they had been duped by Johnson, who convinced them he had control over the properties. Petersons kind heart and good nature were taken advantage of by these women and Johnson, no one ever brought up the fact that three of these women have never held a job, two are long term welfare recipients (15+years) and have been evicted from virtually every place in town. Several of these women are well known to every agency in Washtenaw County because they are constantly in need of assistance to pay water bills, gas bills, electricity bills, 1st months rent, rental deposits, rental payments and the list goes on. The twisted mindset of those who do not believe they are responsible for paying their rent, paying their bills, or providing for their own children confounds me. Why would you have child #6, #7 or #8 when you cant provide for kid #1 through #4? Ive watched some of these women callously use the system for many years but I never thought they would set out to tear down the name and reputation of a good and generous man like Ronnie Peterson.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sat, Aug 7, 2010 : 12:24 a.m.

I've known Commissioner Ronnie Peterson a long time. Ronnie Peterson is a very honorable man who became a landlord providing affordable rental housing. Being busy and diligent with his responsibilities working as a union official and attending county meetings, he hired a property manager that he thought he could trust for the many rental homes he bought in Ypsilanti. I think it is unfair that he would have to pay $26,295 (and legal fees more than that to defend himself) because his firm is held accountable for (alleged) actions of his company's property manager. I believe what he testified is the truth, that the women involved neglected to bring these accusations to him. I think the jury also believed Ronnie. Unfortunately, the jury appears to have believed the women more than the property manager and that is why Ronnie's firm will have to pay the $26,295. Why would some person say that this talented and capable man should step aside and stop serving the community when he is the best person for the job of commissioner and his ongoing service is an asset to the community? It makes me wonder about their motives.


Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 11:44 p.m.

"the women told police, prosecutors, or even judges presiding over their evictions about the harassment, and four fought to stay in his Ypsilanti Township rental units." AND "Johnson, who also testified per a government subpoena, said he thought the case was going in their favor after the women couldn't provide specific details about the time, places and locations of the alleged sexual advances and encounters. He said he also believed their testimony about seeking money from Peterson and the company would sway jurors " The above doesn't paint a picture of oppression. Is it possible all these single mothers maybe looking to get paid...The breeding business has unstabilized due to the shrinking numbetr of people actually working and paying taxes. This is what happens when going into court with liberals deciding your fate. They don't rationalize or make decisions based on facts...only what sounds right and makes them feel good.


Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 10:08 p.m.

If you ask me they both need to go!They both showed the content of their character... need I say more!

Sandy Castle

Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 9:58 p.m.

I'm confident the Ypsilanti school district will dismiss this man. None of us, as parents, will want him anywhere near our children. Because of the sexual nature of the finding AND the criminal nature of it, as well. Even though this is not a criminal trial, there was enough evidence for these jurors to find against Glenn Johnson and that's enough for me to say no to his presence at the high school.

Rodney Nanney

Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 9:30 p.m.

A federal jury weighed the evidence and has found County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson and his property management company financially liable for his cousin's repeated sexual harassment of female tenants, all of whom were low income, single mothers. This type of coercive behavior on the part of a landlord is abhorrent. Mr. Peterson's failure to act in the face of his cousin's repeated sexual misconduct represents a failure of the public trust unworthy of a man holding public office. In my personal opinion, Commissioner Peterson can no longer legitimately represent the interests of Ypsilanti city residents at the county level, since our city includes a large percentage of the county's low income renters. As one of Mr. Peterson's constituents, I call on him to do the right thing for the community and his political party: Mr. Peterson should immediately resign his office, and withdraw his candidacy as the Democrat Party nominee for re-election on the November ballot.


Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

I am the parent of a child that attends Ypsilanti High and I am disgusted that a man convicted of sexual harassment against women is allowed to be with and protecting our precious kids! I say FIRE the scum!! What happens when he finds a 14, 15 year old girl out skipping school.... will he then tell her that he won't tell the school or her parents IF SHE WILL HAVE SEX WITH HIM! Nasty man! Get him away from our children!