PONTIAC, Mich. – A Pontiac City Council member is raising awareness about the need for more mental health resources after she said she was attacked by someone with a mental illness last week.
“I think she truly believed she was in a dangerous situation,” said Councilwoman Melanie Rutherford. “All I was trying to do was to make sure she was safe, and it turned on me.”
It happened last Wednesday (Sept. 20) at North Saginaw and West Lawrence streets after Rutherford attended a meeting about supporting downtown businesses.
Rutherford, who is Black, said the woman hit her while using a racial slur.
As it was happening, Rutherford said she was on the phone with an Oakland County Sheriff’s Department sergeant.
Rutherford said a businesswoman tried to stop the attack, standing between her and the suspect.
“She tried to attack her, and then I tried to jump in front of her like this, and then she tried to physically hit us again,” Rutherford said.
When deputies arrived, they said they found 61-year-old Sherry Simon in a nearby business.
Simon has been charged with felony ethnic intimidation and misdemeanor assault and battery.
The felony ethnic intimidation charge carries up to a two-year prison sentence. But Rutherford said she doesn’t want the woman to go to prison.
“Instead of me being emotional, I have to analyze how this is going to benefit the community, and it benefits us more if we deal with the mental health crisis versus putting her in prison,” Simon said.
Rutherford considers herself a mental health advocate.
Last winter, she organized the “Come on Sis, Let’s Talk about Mental Health” event for women of color.