ACLU and MIRC Also Ask Grand Rapids Civilian Appeal Board to Conduct Full Review of Grand Rapids Police Interactions with ICE Regarding Jilmar Ramos-Gomez and Make Appeal Process More Accessible and Fair
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) have asked the Grand Rapids Civilian Appeal Board to reverse the findings of the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), which exonerated Captain Curt VanderKooi, who called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a United States citizen and decorated Marine combat veteran. The ACLU and MIRC also asked the Board to conduct a comprehensive review of all police interactions with ICE regarding Mr. Ramos-Gomez, as well as to amend the Board’s bylaws to make the appeal process more accessible and fair to citizens.
“When we called for an investigation of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s appalling treatment of Mr. Ramos-Gomez, what we wanted was an independent investigation,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan attorney. “What we got was a whitewash. The evidence shows Captain VanderKooi called ICE because Mr. Ramos-Gomez is Latino. The failure of the Internal Affairs investigation to recognize that this was racial profiling, plain and simple, shows that the police cannot police themselves.”
The appeal to the City’s Civilian Appeal Board follows a GRPD Internal Affairs investigation that found Captain VanderKooi did not violate GRPD’s Impartial Policing Policy, despite documentation showing that he had asked ICE to check “the status” of Mr. Ramos-Gomez after seeing a local TV news report, which included a picture of Mr. Ramos-Gomez that shows he is Latino. Records also show that Captain VanderKooi turned Mr. Ramos-Gomez over to ICE even though he had his U.S. passport and other ID showing he is a veteran.
“Internal Affairs credited Captain VanderKooi’s flimsy excuse, which was that he contacted ICE as part of a potential terrorism investigation,” said MIRC attorney, Hillary Scholten. “But ICE is not the proper agency to contact, nor did Captain VanderKooi suggest the situation was urgent or ask for information other than ‘status.’ The GRPD’s own reports say that Mr. Ramos-Gomez did not pose a danger and was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. To pretend this was not racial profiling is to ignore the facts. It is critical that the Board do a full review of the Internal Affairs investigation and its very flawed outcome.”
Captain VanderKooi has been placed on administrative leave after City Manager Mark Washington asked the City’s Labor Relations Office to review the discipline imposed based on sustained charges of “Discourtesy” against Captain VanderKooi. Captain VanderKooi referred to Mr. Ramos-Gomez as “loco” and “mad”, but the GRPD itself took no disciplinary action other than that Interim Police Chief Kiddle “addressed” the issue with Captain VanderKooi.
In addition to appealing the Internal Affairs Unit’s exoneration of Captain VanderKooi, the ACLU and MIRC asked the Board to consider whether other GRPD employees, who failed to report Captain VanderKooi’s biased comments and turned a blind eye to ICE’s planned detention and deportation of a U.S. citizen, violated GRPD policies. The organizations also asked the Board to review whether the Internal Affairs investigation was compromised by conflicts of interests, including whether officers reviewing Captain VanderKooi’s case had close relationships with him that affected their ability to conduct an objective investigation. The appeal further requested a review of GRPD policies and procedures, including policies around ICE entanglement and inadequate training on treatment of people with mental disabilities.
The Civilian Appeal Board, under City policies, cannot conduct its own investigation, hold an evidentiary hearing, or recommend discipline. The appeal letter notes that although the Board “must operate with your hands tied behind your back . . . this appeal process, as inadequate as it is, is the process we currently have.” The ACLU and MIRC called for the City Commission to strengthen the powers of the Board “so that the police are truly accountable to the public that they serve.” In the meantime, the groups asked the Board to change its rules so that people, including those harmed by the police, can submit evidence. The ACLU and MIRC also ask the Board to allow public comment before voting on appeals.
“We must make this appeal process more accessible and fairer to the citizens of Grand Rapids,” said Miriam Aukerman. “Right now, the Board’s powers are so limited that it can only hear from Internal Affairs, not from people who have been harmed. Accountability requires a fair process, and the process isn’t fair if the Board hears only from the police.”
The next meeting of the Civilian Appeal Board is scheduled for March 20, although Mr. Ramos-Gomez’s appeal is not likely to be heard until the April 17 meeting.