GRPD officer in crash call: Prosecutor ‘hammered’

Grand Rapids
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A lawsuit filed Friday by the city of Grand Rapids reveals new details about how police handled the alcohol-related crash involving an ex-assistant prosecutor.

The revelations came the same day Josh Kuiper was formally charged with reckless driving and a moving violation causing serious impairment.

CRASH TIMELINE

Kuiper resigned from his post after the head-on wrong-way crash on Union Avenue SE during the early morning hours of Nov. 19. The driver of the parked car he hit, Daniel Empson, is suing Kuiper for his injuries.

Earlier this week, Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky and city manager Greg Sundstrom decided to terminate Sgt. Thomas Warwick, Lt. Matthew Janiskee and Officer Adam Ickes for how they handled the crash. However, the officers will not face criminal charges.

The traffic crash report written by Ickes shows that alcohol was a factor in the crash and body camera footage shows Kuiper slurring his words following the wreck.

But the report states Kuiper was able to “perform well on the alphabet and hand dexterity.”

Kuiper was not given a breathalyzer test. Instead, he received a ticket for driving the wrong way down a one-way street and Warwick drove Kuiper to a nearby home.

Janiskee was the watch commander that night.

‘HAMMERED, GOING THE WRONG WAY’

On Dec. 2, the same day 24 Hour News 8 first reported about the crash, then-Prosecutor William Forsyth called Lt. Janiskee to ask why Kuiper had not been ticketed for drunk driving, according to the lawsuit. The call sparked an internal review and a formal internal investigation.

According to a phone call recording obtained by the city, Ickes called Janiskee the morning of the crash when Warwick was present. On the recorded line, Ickes said, “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,” the lawsuit states.

The city says Janiskee told Ickes to stop talking and call back on “3407,” which is an unrecorded phone line in the watch commander’s office.

Those calls were actually recorded, although police didn’t know it at the time, the city stated in its lawsuit. According to the court record, investigators found five recorded phone calls on 3407 – three from Ickes to Janiskee and two from Warwick to Janiskee.

After consulting with lawyers, police reviewed the phone calls as part of their internal investigation, then the GRPD chief contacted Michigan State Police to launch an investigation into possible criminal actions against the officers, the lawsuit states.

SHOULD CALLS BE RELEASED?

The city of Grand Rapids filed the lawsuit so the court can decide whether the five phone calls that were recorded on the second line can be used in determining disciplinary action against the officers or released to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests by 24 Hour News 8 and other media members.

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 publicly released because it would violate the Federal Wiretapping Act and the Michigan Eavesdropping Act.

However, the city argues using and releasing the calls would not violate those acts because they were recorded inadvertently and unintentionally. The city says there is also an exception to the law for recordings made “by an investigative or law enforcement officer in the ordinary course of his duties” and “impeachment” situations.

“The City desires to fully comply with its obligations under the FOIA regarding the release of these recordings, but also desires to fully comply with its obligations under federal and state wiretapping law,” the lawsuit states.

WHAT’S NEXT

The officers’ termination appeals hearings are scheduled for the end of February. Sundstrom said it is rare for officers to take advantage of that option.

If they do, a hearing administrator (usually the deputy city manager) makes a recommendation after the proceedings. That recommendation is given to the city manager, who makes the final decision to either uphold the previous decision to terminate the employee or reverse it.

The officers also have the right to file a grievance if they believe their termination is in violation of their contract. If the city disputes the grievance, the matter can go before a state arbitrator, who will make a binding decision.

Kuiper’s next court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22.

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