GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal judge has ruled against a former Grand Rapids Police Department lieutenant who lost his job after he worked to downplay a crash involving a former prosecutor who had been drinking.
Matthew Janiskee, backed by the command officers’ union, claimed that his rights were violated when a GRPD phone line marked “non-recorded” was actually taped. Janiskee’s statements on that line contributed to his firing.
But the city said the line was recorded accidentally and without the knowledge of anyone else after a contractor updated the phone system several years ago.
The judge agreed that the recordings were inadvertent, pointing out that no city employees had the credentials to change the phone system. For that reason, he ruled, the recordings could be used in discipline against Janiskee.
Janiskee’s attorney Andrew Rodenhouse said they still believe the recordings were intentional.
“When you get into the four-step process of what it takes to set a line to record, the Line 3407 ‘non-recorded’ label would’ve been directly on the screen when they selected the drop-down to select record. So anyone doing that would’ve been put on notice,” Rodenhouse told 24 Hour News 8 after the hearing.
Because of that, he argued the city should be held accountable for how the situation unfolded.
“If you take a gun and you walk outside and you intentionally pull the trigger, even if you didn’t mean to hit anybody or anything, you’re responsible for where that bullet goes. And it doesn’t take much to pull a trigger on a gun. It doesn’t take much to select record on a non-recorded line. But you should still be responsible for clicking that,” Rodenhouse said.
Rodenhouse said they need to further review the judge’s ruling before deciding how to move forward and that an appeal is a possibility.
At the center of the case is a November 2016 crash involving former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuiper. Kuiper, who had been drinking, drove the wrong way on a one-way street in Grand Rapids and hit a parked car, injuring its owner.
The first officer on the scene called the regular police line to reach Janiskee, the lieutenant on duty, and said Kuiper was “hammered,” at which point Janiskee told him to call the non-recorded line. Janiskee, the officer at the scene and a sergeant then discussed how to minimize Kuiper’s situation. Janiskee told the responding officer to give Kuiper a pass on a field sobriety test “if we can.” The sergeant eventually took Kuiper home.
Officers never gave Kuiper a breathalyzer test or took him to get his blood drawn, so he was never charged with drunken driving. He was charged with reckless driving, eventually found guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a couple of days in jail.
GRPD launched an internal review of the crash after 24 Hour News 8 started looking into it because of an anonymous tip. Janiskee was fired in early 2017. The two other officers involved were also disciplined, though they kept their jobs.
Janiskee, who now works as a private investigator, has appealed his termination but that process has been put on hold as the civil lawsuit, which is seeking monetary damages, plays out.