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While the GRPD reinstates Captain VanderKooi, more evidence is revealed about his relationship with ICE and deliberate attempts to do harm to immigrants in the Grand Rapids area

April 27, 2019

On Friday, the Internal Affairs Unit of the Grand Rapids Police Department announced that Captain VanderKooi, who has been put on administrative leave since February 28 of 2019, would now be reinstated.

The GRPD released a statement saying:

The investigation has concluded and, based on the evidence, Captain VanderKooi was not in violation of the impartial policing policy. As a result, Captain VanderKooi has been reinstated to full duty effective Monday, April 29. The complainant in this matter previously filed an appeal, and that appeal will move forward and be heard by the Civilian Appeals Board on May 15.

We understand the sensitivity of matters involving ICE and the concerns of our community. Upon review of the U-visa certification process, I have determined that it is better served as a function of the Records Unit rather than the Investigations Division. The change means Captain VanderKooi will no longer have direct involvement in that process as the Investigations Division Commander.
Our department is sensitive to the nature of citizenship status and we remain committed to developing a new policy that clearly defines expectations for how our officers interact with federal authorities, including ICE. The policy is expected to be completed in the near future. At that time, it will be shared with the community and be available on the City’s website along with our other policies.

Since this matter is under appeal, we do not plan to make any further comments on it at this time.

The ACLU and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) have appealed this decision and will speak before the Civilian Appeal Board on May 15, at a hearing specifically for this case.

The ACLU and MIRC have also provided us with new information, based on the Internal Affairs report and e-mail communications between the GRPD and ICE, which they have posted on the ACLU website at this link

There are several major issues here that need further elaboration, with the first having to do with Captain VanderKooi’s role with the U-visa program. While we are glad to know that Captain VanderKooi will no longer have a role in the U-visa program, we believe it is important that people know exactly why he was so dangerous in this position.

Based on the e-mail communication between ICE and the GRPD, documents which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, here are the most egregious:

p. 81: “With my new assignment as Division Commander of Investigative Services, I am the U-visa gatekeeper.”

p. 43 – VanderKooi volunteers last known address of U-Visa applicant to ICE.

49:  describes a situation where someone is applying for a U visa as “one of those comical situations” where a person gets arrested for DV and the couple gets back together.

42:  VanderKooi and ICE officer Klifman discuss a U visa application which appears to be related to the abuse of 12-year-old victim.  The exchange is redacted, but the two discuss whether to issue the requested U visa, and VanderKooi indicates that it will be denied because the person’s attorney did not return a phone call. The last email in the exchange has Klifman indicating that he has an arrest warrant and will be attempting to locate the person.

There is a great deal of arrogance and callousness demonstrated in these e-mails between ICE and Captian VanderKooi, along with clear indication that VanderKooi was assisting ICE to track down individuals the agency was targeting.

A second major issue, it the significant cooperation between the Captain VanderKooi and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that is also revealed in the internal communication that is separate from the U-visa program. Here are a few of those communications:

From Internal Affairs Report

p. 14:  “Information pertaining to place of birth, country of origin, lack of English proficiency, or immigration status, although tied to national origin, can appropriately be considered … in making a decision to contact immigration officials.”

5, # 23: Email from ICE Agent Klifman to Cpt. VanderKooi requesting a “good address”

From FOIA Release

p. 19:  appears to be forwarding anonymous tips about undocumented people to ICE.

p. 103:  VanderKooi asks Klifman to check on someone’s status. Then the two email about the fact that the person is a minor.  Kilfman says there was no guardian present, and since “I could see an attorney having a field day with that one,” he wants to wait to see if the youth is convicted or until he turns 18.

p. 106: After giving VanderKooi an immigration status update on someone ICE had been unable to deport, Klifman writes “Please let me know if I can be of any more assistance.” VanderKooi responds “One plane ticket?” Kliffman replies “I’ll see what I can do.”

p. 136: After VanderKooi requests status check on a suspect, ICE emails saying that they are now looking into his parents.

Again, the use of language is revealing and the cavalier attitude about deportation is appalling. More importantly, the first example here from page 19 demonstrates that the GRPD are tipping off ICE about undocumented immigrants.

The last issue that these new documents reveal has to do with the organized efforts to resist ICE in Grand Rapids. On Pages 170 – 172, there are screen shots (one here on the right) of a Facebook event page for the GR Rapid Response to ICE Training from May of 2017.

Captain Vincent Reilly (GRPD Commander – South Service Area) says:

Notice that in the e-mail Subject line it says, Interference with ICE Training

Lastly, in one of the screen shots of the GR Rapid Response to ICE event, there is a tab open for Equity Drinks.

With all of this new information it should be clear that the GRPD (not just Captain VanderKooi) is sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even thought the GRPD has denied that at least since people in the community began to challenge then-Chief Rahinsky during a meeting in December of 2016.

It also should be clear that the GRPD and ICE know about the work of GR Rapid Response to ICE and are monitoring the work of that group.

Most importantly, it should be clear that the GRPD, especially through Captain VanderKooi, plays an integral part in the efforts of ICE to arrest, detain and deport members of the undocumented community. In other words, the GRPD is actively involved in the separation of families right here in Grand Rapids.

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