GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Documents, phone recordings and video obtained Wednesday by 24 Hour News 8 through the Freedom of Information Act detail the investigation into a former assistant prosecutor’s wrong-way car crash and how three Grand Rapids Police Department officers responded.
On Nov. 19, 2016, former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Joshua 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 the documents — and hit a parked car. The car’s owner, Daniel Empson, was injured in the crash.
“The vehicle ran into me,” Empson can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher in a recording. “It kinda hurts. … Head, knee, legs, hands — just a lot of soreness overall.”
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 gotta do,” Ickes can be heard telling Kuiper in body camera video. “It’s a nightmare.”
The traffic crash 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 the watch commander on duty, 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,” Lt. Matthew Janiskee, the watch commander, told Ickes.
3407 is a line that the officers believed to be unrecorded; however, it was later discovered that it was recorded. The five phone called recorded 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, it was determined Kuiper would not be given a breathalyzer test.
“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 then drove him to a nearby home.
What’s missing from the evidence is the in-car video from Ickes’ patrol cruiser. Reports state it was 70 minutes of video, but because Ickes classified it as a non-event instead of something that would save it for 120 days during an investigation, it expired after a week. A report says it’s not clear if that was done purposely or if it was an operator error.
Ickes, Warwick, and Janiskee were all facing termination for their response to the crash.
On Wednesday, Warwick accepted a demotion from sergeant to officer and a 160-hour suspension without pay, according to city spokesman Steve Guitar.
Last week, Ickes also reached a deal with the city to instead serve a 30-day suspension without pay. Ickes and Warwick were previously suspended without pay as the incident was under investigation. It is not clear if the suspensions they got in exchange for keeping their jobs included time they were already off the job.
The city says Warwick and Ickes accepted responsibility for their mistakes in investigating the crash.
Janiskee’s situation is not yet resolved; his termination hearing is scheduled for March 7.
Kuiper, who has since resigned from the prosecutor’s office, is now being charged with reckless driving causing serious injury and moving violation causing injury. He’s also being sued by Empson, the vehicle owner hurt in the crash. Empson’s attorney requested all correspondence between the prosecutor’s office and Kuiper be included in that lawsuit, which 24 Hour News 8 has since obtained under FOIA.
According to a “Last Chance Agreement” notating a conversation between Kuiper and the Kent County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Association on the Monday following the wrong-way crash, Kuiper had previous problems while working for the office.
The agreement states that “several years ago, during an office excursion to Wrigley Feild, you became extremely intoxicated… you became argumentative, belligerent and confrontational toward other assistant prosecutors,” and “That you consumed alcohol prior to being involved in a previous incident for which you received a ticket for leaving the scene of a property damage accident… your BAC was .07.”
The agreement also states Kuiper didn’t recall being told by others at Forsyth’s retirement party that he shouldn’t drive, saying his “lack of memory and recollection is further indication of your level of alcohol consumption.”
The three officers are not facing criminal charges. Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting, who handled the case to avoid a conflict of interest, decided they were not in violation of the law.
****CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Officer Thomas Warwick was suspended for 160 days, based on an earlier statement by the city spokesperson. He has since corrected that statement, which is reflected in the above story.***