Suit over GRPD secret recordings heads to trial

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A lawsuit that has been brewing for more than two years will come before a federal court judge on Monday.

It is part of the fallout from a secretly recorded Grand Rapids Police Department line that led to the firing of a lieutenant and the resignation of a Kent County Prosecutor.

The issue is whether the GRPD purposely violated the privacy rights of Lt. Matthew Janiskee, and then used that information to fire him.

It’s a suit that has already exhausted hundreds of hours of billable attorney time on both sides and could end up costing the loser a lot more.

It all started at half-past midnight on Nov. 19, 2016, when then Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuiper drove the wrong way on Union Street and crashed into a parked car.

Calls on the regular police line show Janiskee instructing the officer on the scene to call line “3407.”

Line 3407 was a police line labeled as “non-recorded” used to conduct sensitive police business, such as talking about confidential informants.

But the line was recording when Janiskee was working to minimize the prosecutor’s situation. That led to the resignation of Kuiper, who did less than 48 hours in jail after being convicted of reckless driving.

It also led to the firing of Janiskee who now works as a private investigator.

After 30 months and hundreds of pages of motions and filings, the civil trial begins Monday before Kalamazoo Federal Court Judge Paul Maloney.

In court filings, the attorneys for the Janiskee and the union say that the city “must have instructed … an outside contractor to both set Line 3407 to record phone calls AND to label it as a non-recorded line.”

 In response, the city’s attorneys say that the recording on the line labeled “non-recorded” was “inadvertent” and they were not being actively or intentionally recorded.

The city also denies any intent to harm. The city claims it has the right to record all conversations as a law enforcement agency and as a regular part of business. The city also says the officers had no expectation of privacy and that they waive their rights when they use city-owned equipment, per city manuals.

In addition, city attorneys further state that officers certainly had no right to use city resources to cover up misconduct.

But the union and Janiskee counter that “the label of the phone had the effect of nullifying any general statement of policy found in a personnel book.”

“The Court should not give the city the benefit of the doubt when they claim that someone, somewhere must have meant to change the recording setting on line 3407 in November 2012, but somehow did not,” part of the filing reads.

Many of the contentious issues have been dismissed. But a judge will still have to decide on these issues:

  • Did the employees have an expectation of privacy on that line or because it was a city-owned line used for police work did the department have every right to record the line
  • Was the recording intentional of inadvertent and if the recording were inadvertent, did the department have the right to use those recordings to fire Janiskee?

The answer to that question could determine whether there will be a payout that could easily be six figures.

Janiskee is expected to testify while former Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky was deposed from his new home in Florida and that will be introduced as part of the trial.

Cameras are not allowed in federal court, but 24 Hour News 8 will be following this case, which could go on for five days.

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