Andrew Shirvell, Michigan’s assistant state attorney general, was finally fired on Monday. Shirvell made national news after word spread of his anti-gay blog attacking University of Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong. Shirvell had been on a paid leave of absence since late September.
Last Friday Shirvell faced a hearing under Michigan Civil Service rules. The hearing was closed to the public. On Monday, according to Shirvell’s attorney, Philip Thomas, he was called into the attorney general’s office at 1:30 p.m. and told by staff that “his actions made it impossible for him to continue” in his job with the state.
Attorney General Mike Cox released a statement which said Shirvell used state resources in his campaign against Armstrong and lied to investigators during his disciplinary hearing.
“The cumulative effects of his use of state resources, harassing conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment, and his lies during the disciplinary conference all demonstrate adequate evidence of conduct unbecoming a state employee,” the statement said. “Ultimately, Mr. Shirvell’s conduct has brought his termination from state service.”
“This clearly is the correct decision by the Attorney General’s Office. The next step must be a complete retraction of all the malicious lies and fabrications by Mr. Shirvell, and a public apology to Chris Armstrong, his family and the others Mr. Shirvell slandered,” said Armstrong’s attorney Deborah Gordon in a statement following the firing.
Bully emerges nationally
In May, Between The Lines identified Shirvell at a rally held outside of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of “The Laramie Project,” where members of Westboro Baptist Church were expected to be protesting the play.
Instead, the rally was faced with a different foe: Shirvell, who spent his time there interrupting a speech given by then newly elected student president Chris Armstrong, and holding a sign calling Armstrong a “racist liar.”
Further investigation revealed that Shirvell ran a blog called “Chris Armstrong Watch,” on which he posted photos and comments about the openly gay student president, who Shirvell frequently refered to as a “radical homosexual activist.”
The country caught word of Shirvell’s antics when he was interviewed on “Anderson Cooper 360” Sept. 28.
Cooper grilled Shirvell, reading him definitions of the words “bigot” and “cyber-bullying” and asking him if he thought either term applied to him.
Cox also appeared on “AC 360” Sept. 29, saying that Shirvell’s blogging is protected under the First Amendment and that his job is safe.
“Mr. Shirvell is sort of a front-line grunt assistant prosecutor in my office,” Cox said. “He does satisfactory work and off-hours, he’s free to engage under both our civil service rules, Michigan Supreme Court rulings and the United States Supreme Court rule.”
Cox, however, changed his tone as things continued to heat up, admitting to the Detroit News Sept. 30 that he hadn’t yet read all of Shirvell’s blog when he made his comments on Cooper’s show. “I’m at fault here,” Cox said. “I’ve been saying for weeks that (Shirvell’s) been acting like a bully, that his behavior is immature, but it’s after-hours and protected by the First Amendment.”
However, news that Shirvell was “suspended” was quickly rebuffed by Cox’s office, who said that Shirvell’s temporary departure was his decision.
Community response to the issue was centered around two key points: support Chris Armstrong and fire Andrew Shirvell. Both points generated responses from various UofM officials, as well as the school’s LGBT office, the Spectrum Center, and innumerable LGBT and allied citizens in Michigan and beyond.
The bullying meme had been hitting headlines across the nation, with reports of increased LGBT suicides. The idea that an assistant state attorney general was bullying a 21-year-old college student drew immediate national attention.
The response on social media networks was overwhelming, ranging from reposts of stories and videos about the battle to the creation of several popular Facebook groups. In early October the group “Fire Andrew Shirvell” had over 14,000 fans; “We Support Chris Armstrong” had over 15,000.
Several Michigan politicians and hopefuls have also joined the debate.
On a national level, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement Oct. 1 addressing both the recent slew of suicides related to anti-gay bullying and the situation with Armstrong.
“This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether it’s students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the president of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.”
On Oct. 18, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution condemning the actions of Shirvell. Armstrong was on hand to receive the resolution from Mayor John Hieftje who simultaneously proclaimed October LGBT History Month. The idea for the resolution first came from Council Member Sandi Smith.
Prior to the national media attention, matters had gotten so bad for Armstrong that he decided to file a restraining order against Shirvell. In the PPO application filed Sept. 13, Armstrong called Shirvell “a threat to my own personal safety” and detailed several instances where Shirvell followed Armstrong’s friends as they gathered in various Ann Arbor locations, hoping to confront Armstrong. He wrote that Shirvell’s actions made him “fear for his safety.”
The day of the hearing, in court filings Oct. 25, Armstrong said he agreed to drop a personal protection order request because Shirvell had not tried to contact him since being served notice by the court of Armstrong’s intent to get the PPO.
With the case dismissed, Shirvell’s attorney immediately threatened to sue UofM for banning Shirvell from the campus when it issued a trespass warning Sept. 14. Last week the UofM Department of Public Safety modified the order to allow Shirvell on campus as long as he stayed away from Armstrong.
Shirvell is now facing complaints before the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. Armstrong and his attorney have asked the commission to disbar Shirvell.
“It is past time for Shirvell to realize that there are consequences for his reckless, outrageous statements and actions and that he is solely responsible for those consequences,” said Gordon.
Cox’s investigation findings
* Shirvell showed up at Armstrong’s home three separate times, including once at 1:30 a.m. “That incident is especially telling because it clearly was about harassing Mr. Armstrong, not engaging in free speech,” the statement said.
*”Engaged in behavior that, while not perhaps sufficient to charge criminal stalking, was harassing, uninvited and showed a pattern that was in the everyday sense, stalking.”
* Harassed Armstrong’s friends as they were socializing in Ann Arbor.
* Called Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Armstrong’s employer, in an attempt to slander Armstrong and ultimately attempting to cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong.
* Attempted to “out” Armstrong’s friends as homosexual – several of whom aren’t gay.