GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An apology from the Grand Rapids police chief and the captain who reported a U.S. citizen to federal immigration officials was not enough Tuesday to satisfy Hispanic groups, protesters and immigration activists, who called for the city to end any relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and fire Capt. Curt VanderKooi.
At a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, Interim Chief David Kiddle worked to explain that the Grand Rapids Police Department was sorry that Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a former U.S. Marine who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was held by ICE for three days in December until his attorney intervened and proved he is a citizen.
Kiddle said VanderKooi acted without consulting anyone else at GRPD when he contacted a friend at ICE from his home to report Ramos-Gomez after seeing the his picture on 24 Hour News 8. Ramos-Gomez had been arrested for allegedly setting a fire at a hospital and breaking onto the helicopter pad.
“Capt. Curt VanderKooi, the captain of our investigations division and our department’s liaison to ICE, was off duty the day of the incident. However, like all of our police officers, he took an oath to keep our country safe. Based on his review of the shift summery, Capt. VanderKooi concluded that Ramos-Gomez’s action met the criteria of a potential act of terrorism,” Kiddle said.
Kiddle read an apology that he said was written by VanderKooi in which the captain apologized for describing Ramos-Gomez as “loco” in his email to ICE.
GRPD previously said an internal investigation found it was appropriate to have contacted ICE, though Kiddle said he had addressed VanderKooi’s use of “unprofessional language.”
“We are using this case to as an opportunity to review or contacts with ICE,” Kiddle said. “We are committed to being a welcoming community where everyone feels safe. I want to assure the community that safety, not immigration status, is our top priority.”
A group of protesters in the audience twice interrupted the meeting. During public comment, one person after another called for VanderKooi to be fired and the city’s relationship with ICE to end.
“From where I stand, (VanderKooi) is not fit to lead, not because he used inappropriate language but because he sat on his BarcaLounger and racially profiled a citizen of the United States,” one audience member said.
The call for change also came from Hillary Scholten, the attorney for the Michigan Immigration Rights Center, which has been working with Ramos-Gomez’s family. She said VanderKooi should at least be removed from his position as the department’s ICE liaison.
“This was not an investigation into terrorism. This was an investigation into his immigration status,” Scholten said.
“What it is, is racial profiling compounded by mockery of a veteran with a disability,” said Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is also working with the family.
Protesters brought the meeting to an end when they refused to come to order.
In the end, city commissioners said they took the concerns of the citizens seriously, but no one went as far to say the city should end its relationship with ICE or that VanderKooi should be fired.
They did say they will continue to explore the situation.