GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Department’s internal investigation into how three officers handled a former prosecutor’s alcohol-related crash started because 24 Hour News 8 began asking questions.
Joshua Kuiper, who was an assistant prosecutor at the time, had just left the retirement party for then-Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth when he went the wrong way on Union Avenue SE and crashed head-on into a parked car, injuring its owner.
The crash happened on Nov. 19, 2016. The investigation didn’t start until nearly two weeks later.
A lawsuit filed last week by the City of Grand Rapids against the GRPD officers involved states that on Dec. 2, Forsyth called Lt. Matthew Janiskee, who was the watch commander the night of the crash, to ask why Kuiper was not cited for drunk driving. According to the suit, that call sparked the investigation.
When 24 Hour News 8 asked Forsyth about that, he said he never made any such call.
“No, it didn’t happen,” he said. “The only time I talked to Lt. Janiskee would have been the Sunday following the incident.”
But something else happened on Dec. 2 — 24 Hour News 8 received an anonymous tip about the crash and alleged cover-up.
“Someone should check into a Kent County Prosecutor being highly intoxicated and crashing his vehicle into a car in the city of Grand Rapids with the incident being covered up by GRPD and newly appointed Prosecuting Attorney Chris Becker,” the tipster wrote in an email.
So 24 Hour News 8 started investigating, calling Forsyth for an interview and requesting police video from the crash scene.
“The chief and I talked about whether they ought to release the body cams that day, but that was the extent of the conversation,” Forsyth said.
Monday, 24 Hour News 8 pressed GRPD Chief David Rahinsky about when and why the internal investigation began. After checking, he said it started on Dec. 2, when Janiskee learned that 24 Hour News 8 was getting an interview with the prosecutor about the crash and that the prosecutor wasn’t happy about the way it was handled. The chief said that’s when Janiskee notified his supervisor of the situation and the supervisor told the chief about it.
Rahinsky said that notification — which happened 13 days after the crash — was the first he had heard of it. He said the case didn’t get to his desk sooner because Kuiper wasn’t arrested that night.
It’s still unclear who said that Forsyth’s call started the investigation. 24 Hour News 8 reached out to the city attorney’s office and city manager’s office seeking clarification, but had not heard back as of late Monday afternoon.
Janiskee, Sgt. Thomas Warwick and Officer Adam Ickes are being terminated for the way they handled the crash, but they will not face criminal charges.
Kuiper, who has resigned from the prosecutor’s office, is being charged with reckless driving causing serious injury and moving violation causing injury. He’s also being sued by Daniel Empson, who owns the car Kuiper struck and was injured in the crash.
As part of its lawsuit, the City of Grand Rapids is trying to gain control of recorded conversations on a telephone line that is generally not recorded. The city wants to use the recordings in disciplinary actions it is pursuing against the officers and to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests it has received. The police officers’ unions says the recordings shouldn’t be used in the disciplinary process or released to the public because that would be a violation of the Federal Wiretapping Act and Michigan Eavesdropping At.
Monday, Empson’s attorney filed a motion in federal court, asking for the chance to argue that the recorded calls should be preserved because they could be instrumental in the civil case in proving Kuiper was drunk at the time of the crash. The motion claims Empson’s “ability to present evidence of Kuiper’s intoxication will be materially prejudiced if those recordings are destroyed.”
The motion also says Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan has issued an “order to preserve evidence, which includes a demand to preserve ‘audio recordings’ of the investigating officers” the night of the crash.