GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the latest twist in a case that pits the city against its police, the command officers’ union will ask a federal judge to decide if Grand Rapids police personnel were intentionally deceived about the fact that their phone calls were being recorded.
This whole can of worms was opened when former Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Joshua Kuiper drunkenly crashed into a parked car while traveling down the wrong way of a one-way street and officers on scene decided not to ticket him.
The reason we know this is because of a phone line at Grand Rapids police headquarters, line 3407, that was labeled “non-recorded.”
But, of course it was recorded and now the city is being sued by Former Lt. Matthew Janiskee and the command union, saying the city violated their rights by essentially eavesdropping on calls they believed were private.
“The entire command staff, whoever used that phone, all the private phone calls that were made on it. A lot of people used that phone and they need to be compensated as well,” said Andrew Rodenhouse, attorney for Janiskee.
Janiskee was fired for his part in the traffic stop that led to outrage and an apology from the chief.
In documents filed Thursday, the attorneys for the Janiskee and the union say the city, “Must have instructed … an outside contractor to both set Line 3407 to record phone calls AND to label it as a non-recorded line.”
In response, the city’s attorneys say that the recording on the line labeled “non-recorded” was “inadvertent” and they were not being actively or intentionally recorded.
The city also denies any intent to harm. But that doesn’t matter, says Rodenhouse.
“The judge doesn’t even have to rule on whether or not it was malicious, just whether this was a voluntary, intentional act,” Rodenhouse said.
The city claims it has the right to record all conversations as a law enforcement agency and as a regular part of business. It also says the officers had no expectation of privacy and they waive their rights when they use city-owned equipment, per city manuals.
Grand Rapids attorneys further state officers certainly had no right to use city resources to cover up misconduct.
But the union and Janiskee counter that “the label of the phone had the effect of nullifying any general statement of policy found in a personnel book.
“The Court should not give the city the benefit of the doubt when they claim that someone, somewhere must have meant to change the recording setting on line 3407 in November 2012, but somehow did not,” Thursday’s filing reads.
Now it will be up to Judge Paul Maloney to decide if the city’s actions were intentional
“Obviously, if the city prevails and the judge rules that it’s inadvertent, then it strips a number of our claims, but it doesn’t close the case,” Rodenhouse said. “We have no idea – prior to 2014, there’s two years of information that’s completely missing. We have no idea if during that time someone was listening to that line surreptitiously.”
Rodenhouse said his client and the other people who were recorded on that line deserve financial compensation.
The case will be back in court in May, but there is no timetable to when the judge will make his decision and this case is likely to go on for months, if not years.