GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The fate of Grand Rapids Police Capt. Curt VanderKooi is now in the hands of the city manager.
The Citizen Appeal Board, which is tasked with responding to complaints against the Grand Rapids Police Department, last week overturned Internal Affairs’ findings that there was no substantial wrongdoing by VanderKooi. They explained why during a Wednesday meeting at City Hall.
VanderKooi, who has been with GRPD for nearly 40 years, was thrust into the public spotlight when he contacted ICE about Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, who was arrested after apparently setting a fire at a local hospital. Ramos-Gomez is a U.S. citizen and Marine veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder. ICE ended up detaining him for three days before his attorney proved he is a citizen.
In a 6-2 vote, the appeal board decided that VanderKooi was racial profiling when he called ICE from home while off-duty based on seeing Ramos-Gomez’s picture and name on TV.
“They just erred. It’s simply they got it wrong. It was more than discourteous, it was a violation of policy and I think it’s that clear,” appeals board member John Golaszewski
Dissenting member John Van Tholen said VanderKooi’s decision was prudent due to his alleged concerns about terrorism.
“Thankfully, it was not an act of terrorism, but what if it would’ve been and he wouldn’t have made that call? He may have been under a different type of scrutiny,” Van Tholen said.
The disagreement is not limited to the board of appeals.
“Capt. VanderKooi has been a dedicated police officer for 39 years, he’s saved lives and he made a mistake,” Johnny Brann, a local restaurant owner, said at the meeting. “For him to be fired for this is just not right.”
“He’s been exonerated twice, so for him to be back in this position again, it’s like how many times can somebody be exonerated, my goodness gracious,” he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is working with Ramos-Gomez’s family, brought the issue to the board but says the problem goes beyond VanderKooi. The core problem, it says, is that GRPD has any involvement with ICE.
“The research is very clear that having this kind of entanglement with ICE actually makes our community less safe,” ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman said.
“We had two internal investigations here that came to the conclusion that there wasn’t racial profiling,” she continued. “What we’ve seen here is how critical civilian accountability is because people coming at this from the outside with a critical eye are going to ask things that the police are not going to ask themselves.”
The board’s decision now goes to City Manager Mark Washington, who is in the unenviable position of deciding whether VanderKooi should face further discipline. It is likely people will be unhappy with whatever he decides.
Washington should get the board’s formal report next week. There is no timeline for when he will make his decision.