Spotlight On: Arthur McClenney

Please tell us about your background.

I am a lifelong Michigan resident who was born and raised in Battle Creek. I attended Battle Creek Public Schools, and I’m a proud Bearcat graduate of Battle Creek Central’s High School Class of 1978. I attended our local Community College (Kellogg Community College) and earned Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice from Sienna Heights University. I am also a Graduate of Kalamazoo Valley Community College Police Academy, as well as Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety and Staff Command School.

I served with the Battle Creek Police Department for 26 years in several capacities. My career began as a patrolman before I transitioned to a training officer. I served as a founding member of the Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET), which is now known as the Battle Creek Police Department Gang Unit, obtaining the rank of Sergeant before retiring in 2011.  Upon my retirement I worked as a Senior Clinician at Starr Commonwealth in Albion MI, as a Substance Abuse Counselor for Youths.  I have served on the Battle Creek Public School Board of Education for approximately 15 years, including serving in the position of Board President. Today, I continue to serve my community in my current position: I am a Criminal Investigator with the Calhoun County Public Defender’s Office.

I am married to Toni McClenney (an Educator), and we share a son, Rian, a graduate of Olivet College, and a daughter, Lillie, who is currently attending Wayne State University. I am also father to Shameika and Areathia McClenney. I am also a proud member of Maranatha Original Church of God serving under leadership of Pastor Geraldine Richardson.

How did you come to work in criminal law?

As a young Black male growing up on the northside of town, I witnessed police officers who didn’t look like me, policing our community in ways that didn’t appear appropriate. Growing up witnessing that behavior, I thought to myself that if I was in that position and if someone like me was in charge, that behavior would change. So, I wrote down in a diary – called the “Black Book” – my goal of becoming a police officer. If I obtained this goal, I would help my community change policing in a way that was helpful to those who look like myself. My father was a Firemen who help effect change; he was my example.

While I was working as a manager for a local restaurant, I met a gentleman who came to the restaurant every night. I would let him inside even though we only opened the drive-thru. It turned out he was a Lieutenant for Battle Creek Police Department. I shared my thoughts with him about becoming a police officer as well as my reasons why. He had me apply and the rest is history.

You are currently working as an investigator with Calhoun County Public Defender’s Office. Was the transition difficult?

I have had some challenges transitioning to my current position from “the other side” – although not for the reasons some may think. The challenges I have encountered are more related to access to information that was readily available to me when I was a police officer. For instance, I cannot access the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), which provides criminal histories, background checks, warrant inquires, etc. This information would be useful when investigating possible witnesses, clients or others, or when locating possible witnesses to a criminal case that may have been missed during the initial investigation by police agencies. Likewise, I can no longer access the Statewide Records Management System, which allows access to police reports, names, addresses, etc. But our Investigative Division has acquired other tools, such as TransUnion’s TLO and IDICORE to help us investigate our cases.

Another challenge has been adjusting to attorney-client privilege as it relates to interviewing and being careful when interviewing witnesses. I take special care to speak with defense attorneys prior to using possibly privileged information. As a police officer, I could use all types of information when I interviewed witnesses. Working in a public defender’s office is different, and you have to know what can and cannot be used in interviews. 

How important is it for a defense investigator to have a good relationship with the local police and investigators from the prosecutor’s office?

Building and maintaining a good working relationship with local police as well as county prosecutor’s investigators is essential to my job. After I was hired into my current job, I arranged for our Investigative Division to speak with all our local police departments within our county. During those conversations, we were able to explain our job titles and our duties. It is important that police departments not view us as a threat or as second-guessing their investigations.  Explaining that public defense investigators have a duty to verify all the facts of a criminal case have been established for our clients to receive a fair trial in court is beneficial for the entire criminal justice system. Establishing a good relationship has provided our Investigative Division with access to information that has not violated Attorney-client privilege for either side but assisted with obtaining witness information both sides may be attempting to locate.

Building on my relationships with the county prosecutor’s investigator has led to a partnership, where we can now obtain a tremendous amount of video/digital data through a shared drive once discovery is submitted or cases are filed with our office. For security and tracking purposes, the shared drive is only accessible by the prosecutor’s investigators and public defender’s investigators. Remember, although we are supposed to be equal to our counterparts (prosecutor investigator), this is not always the case when it comes to accessing information. Until it is though, I recommend developing those relationships for the benefit of our clients. This advice is for investigators with prior police experience and investigators with no police experience. Visit your police departments and prosecutors’ offices, both county and city.

Do you have any advice for defense attorneys as to how to best work with investigators?

My advice to defense attorneys is use your investigators no matter how inconsequential you think your case  questions might be. If you have a client who tells you a story that sounds questionable, have the investigator investigate. Have an investigator attend client conferences and explain to the client that this won’t breach confidentiality. Establish a form of work product folder accessible to the assigned attorney that the investigator can place work product into. If your investigators have police experience, ask questions from a procedural standpoint on how investigations are handled by officers based upon their experience. There have been multiple times I’ve alerted attorneys about police documentation that is not included in initial discovery packages. If your investigator has expert experience, use that experience. I 
have testified in court for our office as an expert in my field.

What changes would you make to Michigan criminal legal system?

As it relates to the position of Criminal Investigator, I would make changes to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards Act, MCL 28.601 et seq. The Act defines “law enforcement officer” as including county prosecuting attorney investigators who are sworn and fully empowered by the sheriff of that county. I would amend the Act to include sworn county public defender investigators. With this amendment, investigators would be allowed access to the same tools their counterparts are allowed to use to provide equal services to our clients.

Kathy Swedlow
CDRC Manager and Editor