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Serial Offender: NAACP Legal Defense Fund submits a brief against GRPD’s Captain VanderKooi for violating the rights of two Black teenagers….again

September 7, 2021

(Editors Note: While this post is primarily centered around the person of Capitan Curt VanderKooi, we do not subscribe to the one bad apple in the barrel theory. The GRPD, like all police departments, are designed to protect power and property, along with criminalizing Black and other communities of color.)

A few weeks ago, “the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and counsel Janey Lanier filed an amicus brief in the Michigan Supreme Court in support of Keyon Harrison and Denishio Johnson, two Black teenagers who, on separate occasions, were stopped, interrogated, searched, photographed, and fingerprinted by the Grand Rapids Police Department even though neither teen committed any offense. The case challenges the Grand Rapids Police Department’s official policy of taking photographs and collecting fingerprints of people who are stopped and lack identification, even if they are never charged with a crime, and then storing their information for future use is unconstitutional. The Department’s long-standing policy has been disproportionally used in interactions and field interrogations with the City’s Black residents.”

There are two GRPD officers named in the brief, Elliot Bargas and Captain VanderKooi. As some of our readers might remember, Captain VanderKooi was the GRPD liaison with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who in 2018, called ICE while he was off duty, because he saw Jilmar Ramos Gomez on TV while at Spectrum Health. The ACLU and MIRC released documents in February of 2019 pertaining to the ICE arrest of Jilmar Ramos Gomez, documents that demonstrated that VanderKooi was racially profiling Gomez because he looked “Latino”. VanderKooi even asked ICE to check his immigration status, even though it was already known that Jilmar Ramos Gomez was a US Marine and had been born in the US. 

During a campaign to get Captain VanderKooi fired from his position in the GRPD, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE attended a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting to demand that VanderKooi be removed. During that City Commission meeting, many people spoke during public comment about how VanderKooi had a history of racially profiling other immigrants in the community, as well as being involved in harassing and targeting Black youth.

With this new brief submitted by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also names Captain VanderKooi, it further demonstrates that VanderKooi has repeatedly engaged in racially profiling as a GRPD officer. The City of Grand Rapids then reinstated VanderKooi in April of 2019 and the Grand Rapids Police Department chose to exonerate VanderKooi. 

However, in May of 2019, the Civilian Appeals Board found VanderKooi guilty of racial profiling and voted to reverse the GRPD’s decision. VanderKooi ended up being suspended for only 2 days, even though that was less time than Jilmar Ramos Gomez spent in ICE custody after VanderKooi called the Department of Homeland Security agency on the former Marine. Despite VanderKooi only receiving a minor slap on the wrist, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association found this unacceptable and released a statement in defense of VanderKooi in August of 2019, stating:

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.

Captain VanderKooi is once again the subject of a legal brief, which further demonstrates that he makes it a practice to racially profile residents in Grand Rapids. It will be interesting to see what the courts decide on this new amicus brief that was filed by the NAACP. However, to this writer, it seems pretty clear that the GRPD will do whatever is necessary to defend their officer’s actions and that Grand Rapids City officials are unwilling to hold cops like Captain VanderKooi accountable. 

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