Target 8: Messages contradict GRPD-ICE case findings

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids police internal investigation concluded terrorism concerns justified an officer contacting Immigration Customs Enforcement about a U.S. military veteran, but documents show a sergeant told an FBI agent the case was “not a FBI issue” mere hours after the arrest.

The text message is one of several things Grand Rapids Police Department Interim Chief David Kiddle did not address in his statement released Friday about the department’s findings. So late Monday morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Michigan released documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents also include an email subject line that refers to the man as “loco” — Spanish for “crazy.”

“I don’t know how you could look at these documents and believe that is anything other than racial profiling,” Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for ACLU of Michigan, told Target 8.

Her client, Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, was arrested on Nov. 21 after he allegedly set a fire inside Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, pulling the fire alarm and somehow making it onto the helipad. The following month, he was wrongfully detained by ICE and transported to the Calhoun County Jail. He was released after Ramos-Gomez’ mother contacted an attorney who provided proof of his U.S. citizenship.

But Target 8 found GRPD knew he was a citizen the moment he was arrested: his U.S. passport and military tags were among the items seized at the hospital.

References to his passport were made in the police report detailing the arrest, which was among documents released to both Target 8 and the ACLU through FOIA.

When asked whether ICE had read through the report before interviewing Ramos-Gomez and taking steps to detain him, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said the agency stood by its earlier statement and had nothing further to add. In the earlier statement, ICE said Ramos claimed he was a foreign national illegally in the U.S. during an interview with ICE officers, and that the federal agency released him after a family attorney gave them documents showing is U.S. citizenship. ICE said “no further action will be taken.”

Target 8 contacted Aukerman over the weekend after discovering the contradictory paper trail. The ACLU was already working on responding to the GRPD’s statement that it contacted ICE following protocol, given “the potential risk to the public’s safety, specifically through a possible act of terrorism.”

“They’re just blowing smoke to make this into something that it’s not. This is racial profiling compounded by mockery of people with disabilities and they should call it what it is rather than try to pretend it’s something that it’s not,” Aukerman said.

NEW MESSAGES, MORE QUESTIONS

Ramos-Gomez was arrested around 8:30 a.m. Nov. 21. A follow-up report with a time stamp of 10:23 a.m. for that day noted his passport was found in the backpack he had with him.

A screenshot of a text exchange between Sgt. Gregory Griffin and a FBI agent that afternoon was obtained by the ACLU. It was sent at 11:42 a.m. and said, “Vet, PTSD. But not a FBI issue. Thanks much.”

An hour later, GRPD sent out a news release about the incident and noted there was no concern for additional danger. Documents show ICE was not contacted until that night.

Email documents show GRPD Capt. Curt Vanderkooi contacted ICE at 7:40 p.m. Nov. 21 asking, “Could you please check his status?”

Target 8 did not find documents that showed Vanderkooi was involved in the initial investigation, though Kiddle noted he is the department’s liaison to ICE in his statement. It is not yet clear if Vanderkooi discussed the case with anyone before contacting ICE.

Two days later, an ICE official responded that he interviewed Ramos-Gomez and concluded “he is a foreign national illegally in the U.S.” He then asked to be told about “any other good leads,” according to the email exchange.

The following Monday, Nov. 26, Vanderkooi sent a follow-up email to ICE with the subject line: “Spectrum Helicopter Pad Loco.”

“He’s mocking a person who served our country for a disability that he got on the battlefield as a result of serving our country,” Aukerman said of that subject line. “He’s mocking him and he also clearly knows that this is a mental health issue.”

Vanderkooi’s email read, “it is not clear what mad intent was involved… but here is the report.” He attached the police report that noted GRPD was in possession of the passport and said GRPD Det. Adam Baylis was assigned to the case.

That afternoon, Baylis forwarded correspondence with ICE to the assistant prosecutor handling the criminal charges. Within a minute, the prosecutor responded to the email and questioned why ICE would be involved. He was under the impression the department had his passport and Ramos-Gomez was a veteran.

“Who knows, not sure it was a US passport…I am not sure about the vet thing,” Baylis responded shortly before 4 p.m. on Nov. 26.

Based on documents released to Target 8, it appears there was no follow-up with ICE.

Court proceedings followed for Ramos-Gomez until mid-December. ICE took him in custody Dec. 14, the same day he was supposed to be released from the Kent County Jail on a personal recognizance bond.

Ramos-Gomez’s mother had already arrived to pick him up when ICE came to the jail.

“She sat out in the parking lot and saw that van drive away with her son in it,” Auckerman recounted.

It wasn’t until the following Monday, Dec. 17, a family attorney was able to prove his citizenship with the same identification GRPD had nearly a month earlier.

After spending three days at the Calhoun County Jail facing deportation proceedings, Ramos-Gomez was finally released.

“There were so many failures from across the system here,” Aukerman told Target 8. “The fact that (GRPD) called ICE on a U.S. citizen in the first place. The fact that they failed to take action when they knew ICE was moving forward on a citizen. Kent County here has responsibility because they turned Jilmar over to ICE, even when his mother was standing right there saying, ‘No, he’s a U.S. citizen.’ Calhoun County Jail, they booked a U.S. citizen into their jail even though he had ID showing he was a veteran, an ID you cannot get unless you’re lawfully present. And of course ICE, who tried to deport a U.S. citizen even though they had a police report showing he had a passport on him.”

ACLU DEMANDS ACCOUNTABILITY

Aukerman added that the search for a new GRPD chief must address accountability within the department.

“We need to hold people accountable. We can’t just whitewash this, which is what happened here,” Aukerman said. “As we’re looking for a new chief we need to make sure that person doesn’t just talk, actually walks the walk.”

“We are not going to see real change in this department unless the department is willing to call things out for what they are,” she continued. “This was racial profiling. This was mockery of people with disabilities and the fact that the department can’t call a spade a spade is incredibly disappointing.”

She wants to see the department take responsibility.

“One of the things that the Kent County sheriff did here is recognize they had a problem and make changes to reflect what was wrong with their system. GRPD took a very different approach, which was to say, ‘You know what? We don’t care. We’re going to pretend this wasn’t racial profiling.’ That is not taking responsibility for your actions,” Aukerman said

After the case, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department changed its policy, saying it will no longer hold people in the county jail based only on ICE’s request. Immigration detainment requests must now be be signed by a federal judge or magistrate.

In response to the internal investigation that justified GRPD’s actions, Kiddle said Friday the department will review its contacts with ICE, as well as policies and protocols “to ensure our procedures for contacting federal authorities are based on maintaining safety for everyone in Grand Rapids.”

Kiddle also said he had addressed the issue of the officer who “used unprofessional language in his interactions with ICE.”

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