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The local news reported on the VanderKooi suspension and the police union response, but failed to report on how this will impact the immigrant community

August 29, 2019

It has been two days since it was announced that Captain Kurt VanderKooi, the GRPD officer who called Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, was formally suspended for two hours for his biased and racist actions.

Most of the daily news sources have reported on the matter, including MLive, WOOD TV 8, WZZM 13 and WXMI 17.

All four of these news outlets provided the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association with an opportunity to respond to the revelation that VanderKooi was suspended for two days, but only channel’s 8 and 17 reprinted the entire statement from the police union.

The Grand Rapids Police Command Officer’s Association is shocked and dismayed at how the rights of Captain Curt VanderKooi, who has served the City of Grand Rapids for nearly 40 years with honor and integrity, could have his rights so blatantly violated in an effort to discipline him for the first time in his career.  His due process rights, the GRPCOA collective bargaining agreement, along with state law were trampled on throughout the Citizen’s Appeal Board process and now by the final disposition issued by the City Manager.  He, and many others in City Hall, were put on notice and advised of these violations in the form of our grievance which was originally filed May 23, 2019.  We were forced to file this grievance after he was cleared of the most serious accusations following an unprecedented three iterations of the same investigation.

Captain VanderKooi was given a two day suspension, which has recently been served.  The City Manager advised the GRPCOA that he was willing to uphold the original exoneration in exchange for his agreement to retire.  This discipline was unwarranted and is clearly an attempt to appease a vocal group of activists who made him a scape goat for their own political gain.  We will be amending the grievance to appeal this most recent decision by the City Manager.  We are also awaiting a very copious FOIA request involving all the communication reference this investigation and those involved in it.  Captain VanderKooi is pleased to announce he has decided to postpone his original retirement date in 2020 and looks forward to serving the citizens and crime victims in the City of Grand Rapids as Commander of the Investigations Unit for an additional year.

It is instructive to note that the only part of the police union statement that was contested in the news coverage, had to do with the conversation between the police union and City Manager Mark Washington. The point in question was specifically about whether or not the City Manager offered to exonerate VanderKooi if he was willing to take an early retirement.

However, this shouldn’t be the central issue surrounding VanderKooi’s two-day suspension. There are more important issues that should have taken front and center in the local news stories.

First, there is no formal response from Jilmar Ramos’Gomez’s family or his lawyer, there is no response included from the ACLU or the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, there was no response included by the Grand Rapids Civilian Appeals Board, and there was no response included by GR Rapid Response to ICE or Movimiento Cosecha GR, all of which took public positions on this matter and the later two entities even called for VanderKooi to be fired for the harm he caused Ramos-Gomez.

Second, there was no inquiry made by the local news agencies, asking for a response to the claims made by the police union in reference to the 2-day suspension:

This discipline was unwarranted and is clearly an attempt to appease a vocal group of activists who made him a scape goat for their own political gain.”

This claim by the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association is not only baseless, but it is a deflection from the actual harm done by VanderKooi’s decision to contact ICE on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. More importantly, reprinting parts or all of the police union’s response to the 2-day suspension and NOT examining such a statement, is an indication that the local news media does not and will not hold the GRPD accountable for the harm they are doing in this community.

Third, there is plenty of attention in the local news coverage surrounding VanderKooi’s two-day suspension, that he must attend some additional training sessions and that VanderKooi has decided to delay his retirement. Again, there is little attention to the fact that Jilmar Ramos-Gomez actually spent 3 days in ICE detention because of VanderKooi. There seems to be little concern of how the detention impacted Ramos-Gomez and there is little or no concern over how this issue impacted the larger immigrant community.

None of the news agencies seem concerned with how Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was victimized in this situation and how he must of felt when being put into the custody of ICE because of Captain VanderKooi. In addition, there seems to be no concern as to how the rest of the immigrant community feels about VanderKooi only having to serve a 2-day suspension. The immigrant community, in light of the minor consequences to VanderKooi, has to feel like racial profiling against their community is not taken very seriously by the City of Grand Rapids or the GRPD, considering VanderKooi only received a two-day suspension and the police union is challenging even that.

The news coverage of the 2-day suspension of Vanderkooi is symptomatic of larger issues, such as police accountability, how the GRPD contributes to the harm being done to the immigrant community and the larger mobilization of immigrants and allies fighting for immigrant justice. In every area listed above, the local news media has fallen short of providing the kind of reporting that asks hard questions and engages in critical analysis.

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