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Grand Rapids to pay $190,000 to Marine vet who faced deportation based on GRPD tip

Photo courtesy of the family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez
Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

The city of Grand Rapids will pay $190,000 to Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a U.S. citizen and Marine combat veteran, who faced a possible deportation last year, after a senior Grand Rapids police officer referred his case to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

City commissioners unanimously approved the settlement at a meeting on Tuesday. The settlement resolves a complaint filed earlier this year with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
“We hope that the community can learn from this case,” said Miriam Aukerman, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, who worked on the case. “What happened to Jilmar is really tragic. And we hope that that will be the impetus we need in the city for the city and the police department to move forward to really engage in systemic reform that will change the way we have policing here in the city.”

The city did not immediately provide the terms of the settlement agreement. But Aukerman said it did not include an apology or an admission of guilt by the city.

“We are satisfied that the parties have been able to resolve this matter without court proceedings,” said city attorney Anita Hitchcock in a statement. “The settlement is not an admission of liability. Rather, it is a resolution of a disputed claim. We hope that all parties can now move forward.”

“I think that the financial statement speaks for itself,” said Aukerman.

“Violating people’s civil rights is very expensive because it causes incredible suffering and incredible harm,” she added. “And the way to deal with that is for cities is to prevent it to happen in the first place.”

In August, the Grand Rapids Police Department issued a new policy on officer interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The department says it won’t check a person’s immigration status unless it’s relevant to the case. And GRPD requests for ICE to check status will have to be approved through the chief’s office.

Ramos-Gomez was detained for three days in November of 2018, based on a referral to ICE made by GRPD Captain Curt VanderKooi.

VanderKooi was off-duty when he learned of Ramos-Gomez in a local TV news report. Ramos-Gomez had been arrested for trespassing on the helipad area of Spectrum Butterworth Hospital. His family says he suffers from PTSD as a result of his war service in Afghanistan.

The Grand Rapids Police Civilian Appeal Board found that VanderKooi violated department policy when he asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement to get involved. GRPD officers on the scene had already found Ramos-Gomez’s passport in his backpack.

The city suspended VanderKooi for 20 hours and required him to complete more training. He remains on the force.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department also changed its policieson working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the case. The county no longer holds suspects in its jail past when they would ordinarily be released, even if ICE requests that they be held. Now, the county requires a warrant signed by a judge in order to hold someone suspected of being in the country without immigration authorization.

Miriam Aukerman of the ACLU of Michigan said she’s pleased there have been policy changes as a result of the case. But she said the case isn’t yet fully resolved.

“ICE has not taken responsibility here,” she said. “They took a U.S. citizen, Marine Corps veteran, who had his passport on him, who had his Marine Corps tags on him and they tried to deport him. It’s outrageous.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it detained Ramos-Gomez because he told an ICE officer he was an undocumented immigrant. That’s even though Ramos-Gomez had his passport on him, and it was noted in a police report sent to ICE officers involved in the case.

A spokesperson for ICE referred Michigan Radio to the agency’s initial statement on the case, which was released earlier this year when the case first became public.

This is the full statement:

“On November 23rd [2018], ICE officers interviewed Jilmar Ramos while he was in the custody of local law enforcement. Mr. Ramos claimed in verbal statements to be a foreign national illegally present in the U.S. Based on his statements, ICE lodged a detainer with local authorities. On December 14th, ICE took Mr. Ramos into agency custody after he was released from local custody. On December 17th, an attorney for Mr. Ramos contacted the agency and provided documentation suggesting that he is a U.S. citizen. ICE reviewed the documentation and authorized Mr. Ramos’ release. No further action will be taken."

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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