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Posted on Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 5:54 a.m.

Judge orders Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, property manager to pay $82,500

By Art Aisner

A federal judge has ordered Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson and a former property manager to pay $82,500 to women who were sexually harassed while living in Peterson’s rental homes in Ypsilanti Township.

Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, and his company, First Pitch Properties LLC, should pay $27,500 of the award for not watching Glen Johnson more closely despite allegations that he sexually harassed six tenants, said U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr. in a ruling released Friday.

In August, a jury found both Peterson and Johnson, who are distant cousins, civilly liable for damages under the U.S. Fair Housing Act after officials established a pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination of female tenants if they refused Johnson’s advances.

Johnson, of Ypsilanti Township, was ordered to pay the remaining $55,000, the maximum fine for a first violation of the Fair Housing Act, federal documents show. The penalty is in addition to the $115,000 the jury awarded in punitive and compensatory damages following the six-day trial.

Testimony revealed Johnson refused to give one tenant her keys until she agreed to have sex, and that he threatened others with eviction unless they performed sexual favors. No criminal charges resulted from the investigation, but Cook said the conduct was a clear violation of law and the women’s trust.

“The nature and circumstances of the FHA violations here are significant,” Cook wrote. “(Johnson’s) behavior was egregious and interfered with the women’s peaceful enjoyment of their homes, which should have been the one place where they could turn for refuge.”

Cook also permanently barred Johnson from any involvement in the management, rental or maintenance of housing units. He placed other conditions on Peterson, including adoption of a sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure at his properties.

Thumbnail image for Ronnie_Peterson_March_2010.jpg

Ronnie Peterson

Peterson, who opposed the additional penalties in court, said he would comply with the order despite some misgivings about the case. In particular, Peterson noted that federal authorities waited more than a year to act on the allegations and never notified him in the meantime to ensure the activity stopped. Two of the women were also his relatives, he added.

Women said they complained to Peterson, but he denied any knowledge of the pattern or any of the specific incidents outlined during the trial in Detroit federal court. He also said that he was easily accessible as an elected official with a published phone number, email and public meeting schedule.

“I respect the rule of law, but I was disappointed with the process,” he said Saturday. “I offered to take a polygraph test from any source, and I would have done it. I hope everyone in else involved would do likewise.”

Peterson referred further questions to his attorney, Don Ferris, who did not return messages Saturday.

Johnson did not respond to legal briefs seeking further damages that were filed by the Department of Justice, according to Cook’s ruling. He tried to dismiss his previous attorney before the trial ended and could not be reached for comment Saturday.

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



Wed, Mar 9, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

There is quite a bit to wonder about in this piece of "reporting." Why aren't any of the lawyers for the government quoted? Aisner doesn't say he couldn't reach them, yet he was able to get extensive, self-serving quotes from the commissioner. Remember - a jury made the factual findings, after hearing the testimony of the tenants and the commissioner. These are the findings on which the judge's order was based. The take-home is, if you are going to make money renting houses and apartments, you can't hide behind a "manager" and pretend you don't know what he's up to. This was a good verdict, and, in my opinion, not punishment enough. The women in this case may never feel safe in their homes again. Shame on the commissioner. He has no business holding public office.


Mon, Mar 7, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

I have respected Ronnie in the past. With his denials of wrong-doing on his part, given the documented complaints from the women, that respect has evaporated. I see is a lack of integrity and responsibility for the actions of his employees and on his property (essentially done in his name). There were complains but no action taken until the government was approached by women looking for help. What my question actually comes to is this: why was he re-elected after the first trial? What is it about Ypsilanti that makes us see that this behavior was somehow OK for a Township Trustee.


Mon, Mar 7, 2011 : 2:08 a.m.

this smell.he should pay it and be gone.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 8:56 p.m.

If Mr Johnson were a city employee the city would be named in the suit. It should be no different for Mr Peterson.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

@jondhall; snoopdog: The reason Mr. Peterson is liable is because these are his properties and he is legally responsible for them. In passing his decision, the judge is requiring Mr. Peterson to post or provide the tenants with their rights among which is the right to be free of any type of sexual harassment. If these were your properties, you too would be liable for wrong doing committed by your employee if the proper steps were not taken to make sure that he abides by the law.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

What else has he done??? Ask Mr. Peterson why he isn't on the Ypsilanti Township Civil Service Commission anymore!


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

A ridiculous witch-hunt pure and simple. Lawyers knew Johnson's purse was empty but Peterson's was full. The court has acted as if Peterson was the perp and offered no real proof that he knew what was going on. Shameful !


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Peterson was the enabler.


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

"Peterson noted that federal authorities waited more than a year to act on the allegations and never notified him in the meantime to ensure the activity stopped" So, if you do something illegal or bad the government has to tell you to stop? I guess this guy doesn't respect women where is the NOW organization and all of the other women's rights group? Come on girls get this guy out!


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

First off the title to this article is very misleading . Second why would Mr Peterson be liable , the Feds, wait over a year ,while this affair is going on , come on . How many more federal laws do we need ? How about a federal law regulating the temperature coffee has to be served at? There is no way ,Mr Peterson should have been fined .


Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

Ronnie Peterson should resign. What else don't we know about Ronnie Peterson???????????