Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Ingham County prosecutor Carol Siemon announces retirement and reflects on 40-year career

December 2, 2022
East Lansing prosecutor Carol Siemon poses for a portrait at the Ingham County Friend of Court on Dec. 1, 2022.
East Lansing prosecutor Carol Siemon poses for a portrait at the Ingham County Friend of Court on Dec. 1, 2022.

Teacher, nurse, secretary – there were only a few careers women could choose from in the 1960s.

Women weren’t taught to aspire to be lawyers, or doctors.

In the late '60s, one young girl – Carol Siemon, an eighth grader at the time – decided she was going to be a lawyer. Siemon didn’t really know what being a lawyer meant, but she knew she wanted to be one.

In 2022, Siemon’s career in the legal field now spans over 40 years, with her final stint serving as Ingham County’s prosecutor, taking office in 2017.

At 66, Siemon is ready to take a step back, announcing her retirement effective Dec. 31.

“I felt very fulfilled by what I've done,” Siemon said. “I feel my career and all the different things I've done have been really meaningful.“

Siemon, a Lansing native, attended Michigan State University where she found her love for policymaking while studying philosophy and politics in the James Madison College and working at a local bookstore.

“I was very much interested in how we can each impact and change the system, and give people a voice who haven't traditionally had a voice,” Siemon said.

After attending Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Siemon returned to Lansing where she clerked for a judge and volunteered with a counsel against domestic assault – an organization now known as End Violent Encounters, or EVE.

“I saw just how, at that time, in the early 1980s, how unrepresented victims of domestic violence were and that honestly is what got me to apply to the prosecutor's office,” Siemon said. “I got this way to really have a voice for domestic violence victims.”

Starting in 1983, Siemon worked as an assistant prosecutor at Ingham County’s Prosecutor’s Office for 11 years, where she primarily worked in sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Siemon also served as the unit chief for the juvenile division, which undertakes delinquency and child abuse neglect cases. 

Siemon was later hired by the Prosecuting Attorney's Association as their first child abuse training attorney. She developed training programs for police, prosecutors and Child Protective Services workers on how to investigate and prosecute child abuse cases. 

In 2016, after the arrest of former Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III on 15 criminal charges – the most serious being a felony charge of prostitution – Siemon said she received phone calls and text messages of people asking her whether she would run in the election for the county’s prosecutor. 

“People have been trying for years to get me to run for prosecutor, but it just wasn't what I was planning to do,” Siemon said. “At this point, when that opportunity came open, I looked around and saw who else was going to be running and talked about it with my husband, and decided to go ahead and do it.”

Siemon ran on a reformed, progressive prosecutor platform – a part of which is understanding the community including the effects of traumas and values a community has surrounding education, housing and employment.

“We're talking about trying to reduce incarceration and also shrink criminal justice footprints,” Siemon said. “Some of it is to say we have to look at where the criminal justice system is being used now to deal with societal issues, that maybe it's not really the best system to deal with those issues.”

Siemon announced her office would no longer pursue certain criminal charges resulting from non-public safety traffic stops in July 2021, as part of an effort to address the impact of systemic racial bias in the criminal legal system. 

That same year, Siemon’s office announced a new "felony firearm" policy that limited the use of the charge of the same name to ensure that individuals will be prosecuted only on what their actions over charges of possession itself.

“While I'm not a fan of guns at all, the bias was that somehow if you're a Black person you shouldn't be carrying a gun,” Siemon said.  “I think that's the kind of a unwritten assumption that many people have … So we're trying to figure out ways to even that process out a little bit, so you're really addressing the issue.”

There were many heartbreaking moments, Siemon said of her career, but there were also some happy endings. In particular, Siemon recalled a time during her campaign where she reconnected with an individual, involved in a previous case, who was adopted by their foster parent.

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“Prosecutors usually don't get to hear the ending of our stories,” Siemon said. “That was one where it reinforced that what I had done made a difference. It was a positive difference. And that we changed the trajectory of that young man's life.”

Siemon said she chose her career to make those types of differences, to change what she could as a prosecutor and working in the legal field.

“Sometimes we want to throw our hands up and say it's impossible and I feel that way sometimes,” Siemon said. “But when you change a life in a good way especially, it really means that you've done something with your life.”

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