GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids officer is off the force for how he handled an alcohol-related crash involving a former assistant prosecutor.
The city announced Lt. Matthew Janiskee’s firing Friday. A city spokesperson said city manager Greg Sundstrom made the decision based on the findings presented at Janiskee’s termination hearing.
The firing is retroactive to Jan. 27, which is the day the city suspended Janiskee without pay, along with two other officers who handled the Nov. 19 wrong-way crash caused by then-Kent County assistant prosecutor Joshua Kuiper.
Kuiper was leaving a retirement party for then-prosecutor William Forsyth when he drove the wrong way on Union Avenue SE in Grand Rapids — going 41 mph in a 25 mph zone, according to court documents — and hit a parked car. The car’s owner, Daniel Empson, was injured in the crash.
Officer Adam Ickes was the first to respond to the scene.
“You’re putting me in a real bad place right now, but you understand what I’ve got to do,” Ickes can be heard telling Kuiper in body camera video. “It’s a nightmare.”
The police report shows that alcohol was a factor in the crash and body camera footage shows Kuiper slurring his words following the wreck. And in a recording of a phone call from Ickes to Janiskee, he describes Kuiper as “hammered.”
“This crash out here is Josh Kuiper from the prosecutor’s office that’s hammered, going the wrong way on Union and (inaudible) a parked car,” he can be heard saying.
“Stop. Stop. 3407,” Janiskee is heard telling Ickes.
The number 3407 is for a line that the officers believed to be unrecorded; however, it was later discovered that it was recorded. The five phone called recordings on that line have not been released.
There’s now a federal lawsuit pending in which the city of Grand Rapids is asking the court to decide whether the calls can be used in determining disciplinary action against the officers or released to the public through FOIA requests by 24 Hour News 8 and other media agencies. The Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association contend the recorded calls cannot be used in the disciplinary process or released because it would violate the Federal Wiretapping Act and the Michigan Eavesdropping Act.
Despite noting Kuiper’s intoxication and moving to a different phone line, no officer gave Kuiper a breathalyzer test that night.
“Based on dexterity tasks and on the scene here, I don’t smell any alcohol coming off your person, appears to be a crash at this point, all right,” Ickes told Kuiper at the scene, according to the body camera video. “I don’t have enough PC (probable cause) to offer a PBT (breathalyzer test) at this time to figure out what your level is because you did well on the dexterity tasks. So at this point, we’ll get your car towed, get the other vehicles towed and make sure you get home safe, OK?”
Kuiper was ticketed for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Then-Sgt. Thomas Warwick drove him to a nearby home.
Ickes, Warwick, and Janiskee were all facing termination for their response to the crash.
Ickes also reached a deal with the city to instead serve a 30-day suspension without pay. It is not clear if their Jan. 27 suspensions were factored into their final punishment.
The city says Warwick and Ickes accepted responsibility for their mistakes in investigating the crash.
Janiskee could still file a grievance if he believes his termination violates the officers’ union contract. Last month, he filed a federal lawsuit against the city and his own department, saying they violated his rights by making the phone recordings available for prosecution and to the public.
“The City will proceed to address this matter through the appropriate legal channels,” Friday’s news release stated.
Kuiper, who has since resigned from the prosecutor’s office, is going to trial on charges of reckless driving causing serious injury and moving violation causing injury. He’s also being sued by Empson, the vehicle owner hurt in the crash.
The three officers are not facing criminal charges, based on findings by Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting.