GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The federal judge overseeing the case of a former Grand Rapids police officer suing the city and the police chief has ruled on whether the case should continue.
The 26-page ruling released Tuesday evening has good news and bad news for both sides. The bottom line is that the case will move forward either to a jury or to a settlement between former Grand Rapids Police Department Lt. Matthew Janiskee and the city he was tasked with serving and protecting.
On Nov. 19, 2016, a former Kent County assistant prosecutor’s career in that office ended when he crashed into a parked car while driving the wrong way down a one-way street in Grand Rapids. He was not given a breathalyzer test even though the first officer on the scene said it was obvious he had been drinking.
When that officer on the scene reached out to Janiskee, who was the watch commander that night, Janiskee told him to call line 3407. That line at GRPD headquarters was marked “non-recorded” and was used by police for things like talking to anonymous informants and conducting personal business. But it turned the line was, in fact, being recorded and what was in those recordings was used by the city as the rationale for firing Janiskee.
Now the city is being sued by Janiskee. He and the command union, which has been drawn into the suit, argue the city violated Janiskee and other officers’ rights by essentially eavesdropping on calls they believed were private.
Also named in the suit are GRPD Chief David Rahinsky, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting and others in administrative positions at the GRPD.
The city has said there was no intention to deceive and the recordings were “inadvertent” even though the recordings span several years. The city also argues that regardless, the calls were made on city property and there should be no expectation of privacy when using them. The city also said the suit should be thrown out because as a governmental unit, it and the employees named in the suit have immunity from these types of claims.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney said the city has not proven that there was no intent to purposefully and secretly record the calls.
But the judge also ruled that the chief and the others named in the suit could not be held individually responsible since they were acting as agents of the city. The city is still potentially on the hook.
And giving everyone something to be disappointed about, the judge also told Janiskee that he has likewise not proven his argument that by simply marking the line unrecorded, the city violated officers’ rights to privacy.
All this means that the case will either be resolved following a trial or as the result of a settlement. With the union involved, it’s not clear whether settlement will be satisfactory, so this case could very well end up before a jury.