GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department condemned the way some of his officers handled a former assistant prosecutor’s car crash, saying their behavior does not reflect the agency as a whole.
“I hope that people will look at the action that we took once we became aware of it and judge us on that instead of the actions of these three individuals,” Chief David Rahinsky told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.
His statements followed the release of recordings of phone conversations between three officers on the night of Nov. 19, 2016 after then-Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Joshua Kuiper drove the wrong way down a one-way street and crashed into a parked car, injuring its owner.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the fallout of the crash
The conversations show the officers were trying to cover up what had happened. Officer Adam Ickes, who responded to the scene, told then-Lt. Matthew Janiskee that Kuiper admitted he had been drinking and was “visibly intox.” Still, Janiskee asked Ickes to pass Kuiper on sobriety tests “if we can.” He also asked if anyone else had seen the state Kuiper was in. Janiskee, Ickes and then-Sgt. Thomas Warwick went on to discuss whether they should make Kuiper take a breathalyzer test and how they should write up their police reports to downplay the situation.>>Audio recordings and full transcript
The officers thought they were speaking on an unrecorded line, but it was actually being recorded. On Wednesday, Rahinsky told 24 Hour News 8 that the department the line in question is still being recorded.
“There should be no conversation that takes place in this building that effects this community that we’re not willing to share,” the chief said. “Which is why once we became aware of both the existence of these tapes and that mindset we took the steps that we did.”
After 24 Hour News 8 got an anonymous tip about the incident and started asking questions, GRPD launched an internal investigation and Michigan State Police were called in to investigate. The Kalamazoo County prosecutor, who was brought in to avoid a conflict of interest, eventually decided that none of the officers would face criminal charges.
When asked how the public can trust GRPD when two of the officers involved in the incident are still working, the chief replied, “That’s a fair question.”
He pointed out that the initial recommendation from him and the city manager was for all three to be terminated, but that the current outcome was reached after the city’s due process.
Perhaps most concerning about the conversations is that multiple people were involved and none of them ever suggested a different course of action or indicated that what they were doing may be wrong.
When 24 Hour News 8 asked Rahinsky what’s being done to make sure that type of culture ends, he referred back to the disciplinary actions against the officers.
“There is not a person in this department, sworn or unsworn, who doesn’t recognize the gravity of the situation that we’re in and just what a punch to the gut to our credibility this incident has been,” the chief said.
Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom backed the chief, agreeing that the officers involved are merely a few bad apples.
“It’s not a behavior that we can accept or condone in any way,” Sundstrom said. “What I want everyone to know is occasionally things like this happen. We are humans and we have faults and frailty.”
“I believe this is an isolated case. There is no reason to believe that it is more than that. In fact, if one listens to the recordings, you actually hear the officers acknowledge that,” he continued.
He was referencing a statement from Warwick in one of the calls:
“This one was f****** hard. Anybody else, there’s probably only another one or two cops out here, other than (Ickes), that would have been able to discreetly do that. But, but the first part of his phone conversation to you might f*** us,” Warwick said.
Andrew Rodenhouse, an attorney for Janiskee, said the conversation was taken out of context and the officers weren’t doing anything wrong.
“He says give him a (breathalyzer test) and he says, ‘We want to give him a break but if we can’t give him a break, we are not going to f*** ourselves,'” Rodenhouse said.
He was referencing a call in which Janiskee told Ickes, “Let’s pass him (on the sobriety tests). If we can, if we can’t, we can’t. Adam, we’re not going to get f*****.”
Janiskee went on to say he would “like to pass him on sobrieties, if we could,” but also said that Ickes could give Kuiper a breathalyzer.
“If this is their only frame of reference, the optics are bad — we cannot dispute that. But when you know more about the story and you know what happened, it all makes sense,” he continued.
The police chief and city manager disagree with the attorney.
But they both stressed that the incident was not representative of the department as a whole.
“I believe the men and women of our police department earn the trust of our residents every day. They work hard and they serve. … These three officers are less than 1 percent of our department,” Sundstrom said.