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State civil rights agency says it's investigating 23 incidents of alleged discrimination by GRPD

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights says it’s investigating 23 separate incidents of alleged discrimination by the Grand Rapids Police Department.

The 23 incidents include two incidents referred by the ACLU of Michigan last month.

The ACLU of Michigan filed a complaint in the case of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a Marine combat veteran and U.S. citizen who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to face possible deportation after a referral from the Grand Rapids Police Department. It also filed a complaint against the GRPD over an incident in which a Hispanic 15-year-old was stopped for jaywalking. The officer on the scene drew his gun on the 15-year-old.

Agustin Arbulu is head of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. He wouldn’t confirm the details of any of the other 21 cases of alleged discrimination.

But he says the MDCR already had 12 open investigations of incidents involving the GRPD before it held public hearings in the city in March. Since then, 11 more complaints have come in.

Arbulu says each will be investigated individually, along with any other complaints that come in the future. But he adds that the MDCR will also be looking for patterns, or evidence of ongoing discrimination.

“And so, if they are, then that to me will reveal that there are entrenched discriminatory practices that we need to take into account,” Arbulu says.

The Grand Rapids Police Department responded with a statement posted to its Facebook page. The 

"Our police department is committed to transparency and we welcome a review by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights," the GRPD said, in a statement it attributed to interim police chief David Kiddle.

statement is attributed to GRPD interim chief David Kiddle:

“Our police department is committed to transparency and we welcome a review by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Our doors are always open for anyone who wants to see how we are doing our job and offer ideas for how we can better serve our community. We take all concerns brought forward by community members very seriously – whether it’s through our Internal Affairs process or an outside agency. We have clear expectations for how our officers conduct themselves and interact with community members. We take our impartial policing policy very seriously and, as such, we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our department. We look forward to continuing to work with our community to build and strengthen relationships. We want to be a trusted community partner for everyone who calls Grand Rapids home.”

Arbulu, of the MDCR, says he expects the GRPD will comply with the investigation. But if it doesn’t, the state civil rights agency can force GRPD to turn over records.

“We do have subpoena powers,” Arbulu says. “And if there is some resistance from that angle, then we’ll deploy and employ whatever powers we have available, including subpoena powers to produce records.”  

Arbulu says he doesn’t expect the MDCR will need to use those powers. He says the department will take its time to fully investigate the claims of discrimination. He says the timeline for completion would be in months, not weeks.

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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