Supporters criticize placing GRPD capt. on leave

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Like last week, the main topic of discussion at Tuesday’s Grand Rapids City Commission meeting was the highly controversial incident in which an American citizen was detained by federal immigration officials.

But while previous meetings have roiled with disruptive protests against police, Tuesday’s meeting was much different. Most of the speakers supported Grand Rapids Police Department Capt. Curt VanderKooi and derided the move to have him placed on administrative leave.

“Capt. VanderKooi does not deserve what’s happening to him today. He’s an amazing officer and he deserves nothing but the utmost respect and our support,” one citizen said.

VanderKooi, GRPD’s liaison to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, called ICE while off-duty after seeing Jilmar Ramos-Gomez’s photo on TV the day police say he started a fire in a hospital and broke onto the helipad. Because VanderKooi didn’t check in with any officers working on the case, he didn’t know they had already found Ramos-Gomez’s U.S. passport and realized he is a Marine veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ramos-Gomez was ultimately detained by ICE for three days before his attorney proved he’s a citizen.

Last week, protesters calling for VanderKooi to be fired disrupted the city commission meeting with chants. It led to Mayor Rosalyn Bliss ending the meeting early.

After that meeting, City Manager Mark Washington called for a review to determine whether VanderKooi was properly disciplined for referring to Ramos-Gomez as “loco” in an email to ICE. While a review is underway, VanderKooi was placed on leave.

Tuesday’s meeting was had long been scheduled to be held at Union High School on the city’s West Side. The demographics may explain why the tone was so different, or perhaps it was because VanderKooi was placed on leave. The majority of speakers were critical of that decision.

“It’s all going on Capt. VanderKooi and it’s totally wrong and I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to turn around and bite y’all, and I hate to see it but it’s going to happen,” one commenter said.

Well-known restaurateur and police supporter Johnny Brann took to the stage to say that the commission has failed to support police against the sentiments of a few.

“We need law enforcement supporters in Grand Rapids,” Brann said.

There were, however, still those present who believe VanderKooi racially profiled Ramos-Gomez.

“Mayor Bliss, you seem to be more upset at your meetings getting disrupted and not being able to get through your precious agenda the way you want than the fact that a GRPD officer attempted to deport a U.S. citizen, made racist comments and has a history of harming the immigrant community in Grand Rapids,” one speaker said.

The mayor and commissioners made a point to say nothing about the issue other than asking people to have patience and allow the process to run its course.

An internal police investigation has already found that VanderKooi was justified in calling in ICE because of fears of terrorism. That decision is not under review, though the American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which are working with the Ramos-Gomez family, have called it a “smokescreen” for racial discrimination.

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