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ACLU asks civilian board to review controversial case involving GRPD

Grand Rapids Police Department station
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

The ACLU of Michigan has asked a civilian board to review a controversial case involving the Grand Rapids Police Department.

The case is over Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. He’s a U.S. citizen and a war veteran. He was mistakenly detained by immigration authorities last year based on a tip from the GRPD.
The ACLU of Michigan called it a “clear case of racial profiling.” But an internal review by the department said the contact was justified.

Ramos-Gomez was arrested by the GRPD in November after setting a small fire and trespassing onto the helicopter pad area at Spectrum Butterworth hospital.  

GRPD Captain Curt VanderKooi learned about the case on the local news, and emailed a contact at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Could you please check his status?” VanderKooi asked.

"We're asking for an impartial body to look at this," says Miriam Aukerman of the ACLU of Michigan

The GRPD’s internal affairs report concluded VanderKooi was justified in contacting ICE. It said VanderKooi had concerns Ramos-Gomez’s actions could be part of a terrorist plot.

“What this investigation showed is that the police cannot police themselves,” says Miriam Aukerman of the Michigan ACLU. “And so we’re asking for an impartial body to look at this.”

The ACLU and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center have submitted a request to the Grand Rapids Police Civilian Appeal Board.

Last week, Capt. VanderKooi was placed on leave after the Grand Rapids city manager asked for a review of another one of the findings of the internal affairs report. The report found that VanderKooi violated department policy on “discourtesy” when he used the word “loco” in the subject line of one of his emails about the case. Ramos-Gomez is Hispanic and his family says he suffers from PTSD as a result of his service in the Afghanistan war.

The Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association, a union that represents VanderKooi, objected to him being put on leave.

"The re-opening of this case and the placement of Captain VanderKooi on Administrative leave is, in our opinion, a clear violation of the Due Process Rights of one of our members under our Collective Bargaining Agreement," the union said in a statement released last week.

Miriam Aukerman says she hopes the Civilian Appeal Board will take a deeper look at the policies behind the treatment of Ramos-Gomez.

“And so this is both an appeal in Jilmar’s case, but also a chance for us as a community to really improve our system for true police accountability.”

The ACLU of Michigan says it expects its appeal to be considered by the board in April.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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