Media Contact

Ann Mullen, ACLU of Michigan Communications Director, amullen@aclumich.org, (313) 400-8562

February 28, 2019

ACLU and MIRC Call for Broader Systemic Changes In Grand Rapids Police Department Beyond Placing One Officer On Leave    

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) and Michigan Immigrant Right Center (MIRC) applaud the City’s decision to further investigate and place Police Captain Curt VanderKooi on administrative leave.  The ACLU and MIRC previously released documents showing Captain VanderKoois racially profiled and mocked Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a United States citizen and decorated Marine combat veteran, when he contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check Mr. Ramos-Gomez’s immigration status. However, the ACLU and MIRC also urge the City of Grand Rapids to make much broader changes to stop racial profiling, protect people with disabilities, and restore community trust in the Grand Rapids Police Department.

“There has understandably been a lot of attention on the appalling actions of Captain Curt VanderKooi,” said ACLU senior staff attorney Miriam Aukerman. “But his actions are just a symptom of a larger problem. This goes beyond one officer. The GRPD’s involvement in this horrendous incident only came to light because the public demanded an investigation. And even when the evidence from that investigation showed racial profiling, right there in black and white, the GRPD exonerated Captain VanderKooi. He was not suspended until the public turned out in force to demand accountability. That is a problem, and shows the police cannot police themselves.” 

The ACLU and MIRC call on the City of Grand Rapids to take immediate steps to help restore community trust.

  • The City, including the GRPD, must cease all cooperation and communication with ICE that is not absolutely required by law.
  • The City should commit to transparency in its dealings with ICE by publishing a record of all communications it does have with ICE in a monthly report, available on its website.
  • The GRPD should place a respected officer who is trusted by the community in the position, formerly held by Captain VanderKooi, of certifying visas for victims of crimes, to reduce the fear in our community that reporting crimes will lead to deportation.  

“There is too much at stake to allow business as usual within the Grand Rapids Police Department,” said MIRC attorney Hillary Scholten. “Immediate action is necessary to build trust with the community, and that means everyone in the community. Police should be treating everyone fairly, not only when we demand that they to do so. The Police Department needs immediately to end its entanglement with ICE. And the City needs to be transparent when there is any communication with ICE.  It will take more than putting one officer on leave to restore community trust, and to make sure that something like this never happens again.”

The ACLU and MIRC also believe that the upcoming review of GRPD policies and procedures should address not only contacts with federal immigration agencies, but also protection of people with disabilities.

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