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July 22, 2022

Grand Rapids Police Cannot Fingerprint People Who Have Not Been Charged with a Crime 

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) applauds the Michigan Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that the Grand Rapids Police Department’s (GRPD) policy of photographing and fingerprinting people who have not been charged with a crime is unconstitutional. 
The Court ruled today in Johnson v. VanderKooi that the GRPD violated the Fourth Amendment rights of two Black teens in 2011 and 2012, when, in separate incidents, the police stopped, photographed, and fingerprinted them because they viewed the teens as suspicious, even though they were never arrested or charged with a crime.  

The GRPD’s “photograph and print” policy was used on thousands of people over a period of more than 30 years, and photographs and fingerprints were retained by the police indefinitely. The collection of personal biometric data in law enforcement databases represents a growing threat to privacy and civil liberties throughout the country. 

The ACLU represented the youths, whose cases are detailed below:  

  • Keyon Harrison, a Black 16-year-old, was walking home from school when he helped another youth carry a toy fire truck. GRPD Captain Curt VanderKooi stopped Keyon, questioned him, and required him to provide his fingerprints and be photographed. Harrison was then released, and never charged with a crime, but the GRPD kept his photograph and fingerprints on file.  
  • Denishio Johnson, a Black 15-year-old, was walking through an athletic club parking lot, when he was similarly stopped, photographed, and fingerprinted by the GRPD, despite never being charged with a crime. 

A review of the GRPD’s records revealed that the GRPD primarily targeted Black people with the photograph and fingerprint policy. Several hundred incident reports were produced, showing that 75% of the people stopped by the police and subjected to the “photograph and print” policy were Black, while just 15% were White. The overall racial makeup of Grand Rapids, by contrast, is 21% Black and 65% White. 

Dan Korobkin, legal director with the ACLU of Michigan, has this statement: 

“Today’s unanimous ruling confirms that the Grand Rapids Police Department’s photograph and print policy is dangerous and unconstitutional. The policy enabled decades of racial profiling, police overreach, and threats to personal privacy. It is time to reimagine policing and center the needs of the communities that officers are sworn to serve and protect.”  
Captain Curt VanderKooi, who was sued in this case, was also at the center of a racial profiling case involving U.S. Marine combat veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez in 2019.