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Civilian Appeals Board votes to reverse GRPD decision to exonerate VanderKooi: There was plenty of evidence of bias in the Jilmar Ramos-Gomez case

May 16, 2019

Yesterday, the Civilian Appeals Board held a meeting to specifically address the issue of the conduct of Captain Kurt VanderKooi,  as it relates to him contacting ICE on former US Marine and US citizen Jilmar Ramos-Gomez.

The meeting began at 4pm, however, the board chair asked for a recess to give time for the board members to read interviews that were conducted by the GRPD’s Internal Affairs of Captain Kurt VanderKooi. This action got many in the audience questioning the validity of the Civil Appeal Board (CAB) process and whether or not the GRPD was pressuring the CAB to allow the Internal Affairs investigation on the matter to stand.

In March, the ACLU & MIRC had filed a request to the Civil Appeals Board, asking to be able to present at their next public meeting, in order to challenge the GRPD’s Internal Affairs decision to re-instate Captain VanderKooi. 

At this point one of the City Attorney’s provided a summary of the case involving Jilmar Ramos Gomez, which the ACLU has documented throughly

During the summary of the case, it was acknowledged that there was no formal training of the GRPD as it relates to when they should be contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The City Attorney then stated that the ACLU & MIRC had requested to give a 30 minute presentation regarding the case of GRPD conduct and Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. The board chair of the Civilian Appeals Board then wanted to address the issue of transparency, because he had been forwarded numerous documents. The members of the CAB then discussed the merits of allowing or disallowing the ACLU request.

Several members of the CAB stated that they did not support allowing the ACLU/MIRC present their case. There were two board members, Russ Olmstead and Dick Bulkowski, who stated that the ACLU/MIRC should be allowed to present, both because of the seriousness of this case as it relates to the broader community and because the GRPD provided new information that board members read, so why couldn’t the ACLU/MIRC present information as well. The board chair then suggested that the board should vote on whether or not to allow the ACLU/MIRC to present. Once again, the board took a recess to confer amongst themselves on how to proceed.

Once the board resumed, the City Attorney said that after conferring with city staff and labor relations, they recommended to deny the ACLU/MIRC an opportunity to present. Board member Bulkowski then reversed his decision and stated he thought that the ACLU/MIRC should not be allowed to present. There was a great deal of confusion about what to do at this point, to such a degree that numerous members of the public found the proceedings both frustrating and comical. Russ Olmstead made another motion, but it was never seconded, thus denying the ACLU/MIRC to present.

At this point members of the Civilian Appeals Board were given the opportunity to ask questions to the GRPD officers who investigated Captain VanderKooi. The first question asked had to do with why there was no formal policy of the GRPD when dealing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The GRPD was now crafting a policy, to which a board member asked why now. The GRPD stated that they felt it was necessary to have a formal procedure, based on this case.

There was further discussion about whether or not Captain VanderKooi could or should have contacted ICE. The GRPD official stated repeatedly that VanderKooi contacting ICE was the right thing to do, considering what Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was doing at the Spectrum Hospital at the time of his arrest.

Additional questions centered around VanderKooi making calls, based on what information and who he contacted. At one point the GRPD officers stated that the criticism of VanderKooi calling while he was off duty, was unfair, because the police are “never really off duty.”

Another question posed to the GRPD had to do with the e-mail communication by the GRPD & ICE that was racial in make-up. One board member didn’t seem to think that there was adequate analysis of racial bias in the communications. Russ Olmstead asked that since there was no formal policy for the GRPD to contact ICE, whether or not there was any racial bias in this case. Olmstead continued to press the GRPD on this matter and the GRPD responded by saying “you are trying to press whatever agenda you have.” This statement elicited a response from the public, which pointed out the irony in the statement, since the GRPD doesn’t have any “agenda.”

The issue of status was raised as well, where one board member wanted to be clear that this was referring to immigration status. The GRPD responded by saying this was true, along with any other information on the person in question. Russ Olmstead asked a follow up observation that in virtually all of the e-mail communications immigration status was the primary concern. Olmstead pointed out to the GRPD that this was a pattern and that there didn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of this fact.

Another question was asked about when the Captain VanderKooi knew that Jilmar Ramos-Gomez is a US citizen. The GRPD stated they did not know when he knew, which seems rather ridiculous, since this issue is critical to determining whether or not there was bias or not.

Lastly, the GRPD was asked why the GRPD contact a certain department within ICE, one that was listed in the majority of the e-mails. This question also demonstrated the selective aspect of the GRPD’s investigation.

The board chair made the observation that even though VanderKooi had been in the ICE liaison position for two years, there was never any formal policy or training as it relates to ICE.

One additional comment was made by a board member, pointing out that the investigation was done correctly, but that the GRPD’s conclusion to exonerate VanderKooi, that was the wrong conclusion. The board member said that it seemed clear that based on the disability that Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was experiencing, the actions of VanderKooi were clearly biased and wrong.

At this point, the board needed to determine whether or not their was sufficient information regarding Captain VanderKooi’s case and whether or not he violated the GRPD’s impartial bias policy. The majority of the board members voted by saying there was sufficient information.

George Storms made a motion to reverse the findings by Internal Affairs of exonerating Captain VanderKooi, in regards to the Impartial Policing policy. The vote was 6 – 2 in favor of reversing the findings

Throughout the proceedings, there were two overriding themes that this writer heard. First, that the GRPD conducted a weak investigation, which was evident since when questioned by the CAB members, the two cops involved in the investigation either couldn’t answer the questions or had vague responses. Secondly, to many people in the room, even without seeing all the documentation that the Civilian Appeals Board had, it was clear that Captain VanderKooi demonstrated significant bias during the Jilmar Ramos-Gomez case.

There was a proposal by the Civilian Appeals Board to meet on May 22nd to determine the next steps, although it was made clear by one of the City attorney’s present that the City Manager will now have the power to determine what to do about Captain VanderKooi.

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