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ACLU and MIRC file civil rights complaints against GRPD

Grand Rapids Police Department station
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids Police Department station

Two social justice organizations filed complaints against the Grand Rapids Police Department with the state Department of Civil Rights.

The ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center say the GRPD has racially profiled residents in two recent incidents.

One incident involved an officer who called Immigration and Customs Enforcement about a U.S. Citizen and Marine veteran. That officer, Captain Curt VanderKooi, was reinstated last week after the department did an internal investigation into the incident.

The other incident involved a Latino teenager who was held at gunpoint for jaywalking.

Miriam Aukerman, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, says the GRPD needs state oversight.

“There needs to be an independent, impartial investigation, not a whitewash,” Aukerman said.

Aukerman also says GRPD needs to end what she feels is a troubling relationship with ICE.

“The end result, the inevitable end result is racially profiling towards communities of color. It is absolutely unacceptable and it has to end,” she said.

Hillary Scholten, Staff Attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, agrees that Captain Curt VanderKooi has a troubling amount of communication with ICE.

“We FOIA’d only the last two years and we have almost 89 instances of back and forth between Captain VanderKooi and ICE," Scholten said. "There’s just a free flow of information in all kinds of cases. Not just exceptional circumstances as the GRPD had previously stated.” 

Scholten says the fact that GRPD reinstated VanderKooi with no guarantee he won’t continue calling ICE to check the immigration status of residents doesn’t help the department repair its relationship with the community.

“This is an outrageous breach of trust that once again damages the police department’s credibility with the community,” she said.

The GRPD has not responded to a request for comment, but the department has defended its officers in the past, saying they correctly followed policies and procedures.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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