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What are the Grand Rapids Police Union and City Officials hiding from us? FOIA documents on police union arbitration case about cop who called ICE on a former US Marine

June 8, 2022

We recently received 46 pages of a FOIA document that provides some insight into the arbitration submitted by the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association (GRPCOA), in their attempt to get Captain Kurt VanderKooi vindicated of any wrong doing for his role in contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez in late 2018.

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a former Marine and US citizen was arrested on November 21st, 2018, at Spectrum Hospital where he trespassed on the helipad after damaging a keypad. This all took place around 8:30am on November 21st. 

At 7:40pm that same day, WOOD TV 8 ran a story about this incident involving Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. GRPD Captain Kurt VanderKooi was watching the WOOD TV 8 story while off duty, but contact an ICE agent in West Michigan to “check on his immigration status.” The ICE agent contact Captain VanderKooi two days later to tell him that he interviewed Ramos-Gomez at the Kent County Jail, stating, “he is a foreign national illegally in the U.S.  Thank you for the lead he will be coming into our custody when he is released from his criminal case.  Let me or Derek know if you ever have any other good leads.” Jilmar Ramos Gomez was then taken to an ICE detention facility, until it was discovered that the indeed was a US citizen. You can read about the details of this case from ACLU and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center documents, which these two organizations obtained from their own FOIA request.

The immigrant-led movement, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE then began a campaign to get Captain Kurt VanderKooi fired from the GRPD for his role in calling ICE, which led to Jilmar Romas-Gomez being sent to detention. 

In late February of 2019, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, attended a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting to demand that VanderKooi be fired, but when it became clear that the City would not act, people protested and shut down the meeting.

A month after the protest at the City Commission meeting, an Internal Affairs (GRPD) investigation was conducted and determined that Captain Kurt VanderKooi did nothing wrong in this matter. 

The ACLU and MIRC pushed for this case to go before the Civilian Appeals Board, which it did in May of 2019. After a contentious meeting, the Civilian Appeals Board voted 6 – 2 in favor of overturning the decision by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs.

In November of 2019, several news sourced reported that the City of Grand Rapids paid $190,000 to Jilmar Ramos Gomez because Captain VanderKooi called ICE on Mr. Ramos-Gomez. A spokesperson for the ACLU said the City, “did not include an apology or an admission of guilt by the city.”

However, it should be said that the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association (GRPCOA) filed a grievance just after the May 2019 Civilian Appeals Board decision, which had overturned the Internal Affairs decision. Then, from September 25 – October 19 of 2020, there was an arbitration hearing between the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association (GRPCOA). Both parties were represented by legal council and here is a link to the FOIA document.

The first thing that is noticeable in the FOIA documents regard the arbitration case, is that there are a fair amount of pages with redacted content. For example, you can see that on page 40 of the FOIA document, there are only a few words on the page, which was discussing the Civilian Appeals Board meeting from May of 2019. (Seen here on the right.)

In other instances where there is clearly redacted content, it appears that much of the redacted content is testimony given by people who were part of the proceedings, like City Manager Mark Washington. People will often say that content is redacted to protect privacy, but there seems to be too much redacted content in this 46 page document. What are they hiding in this instance and why can’t the public see exactly what local government officials are saying about something that not only involves the GRPD, but something that clearly impacts the community?

This FOIA document once again confirms that the GRPD police union has too much power and that the City of Grand Rapids is in no way interested in transparency. The public pays the salaries of the police and Grand Rapids government officials, yet we continue to be told that we do not have access to information concerning public matters. The redacted parts of this document should be viewed as protecting certain city officials from potential public backlash, and it should make people question what other information are City Officials and the Grand Rapids Police Department withholding from us?

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