GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — At least 27 police officers in West Michigan are identified on little-known lists of those with documented cases of lying on the job or to their bosses, according to a Target 8 investigation.
Most are still working, but their credibility is in question whenever they walk into a courtroom.
Prosecutors are required by law to notify defense attorneys whenever police officers on these lists testify in court.
The lists include some familiar names.
Then-Sgt. Thomas Warwick and Officer Adam Ickes, of the Grand Rapids Police Department, were suspended and made the list for “knowingly making false statements” in the highly publicized November 2016 wrong-way crash of then-Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuipers.
Ickes didn’t administer a breathalyzer test even after telling his supervisor that Kuipers seemed “hammered.” Warwick drove Kuipers home.
“We’re talking about the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the integrity of protecting people’s constitutional rights, their liberty, their well-being,” said Matt Weise, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.
Then, there’s Kent County Deputy Kenyatta Weaver Jr., who got suspended and made the list after throwing punches and pulling a gun in an off-duty brawl last year then lying to responding deputies from his own department.
“It’s a calculated risk, certainly, but it’s something that we monitor very, very closely,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young said.
For the first time, in response to a public records request from Target 8, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office has released its list of police officers with what are known as “Giglio” letters.
In Kent County, it includes 13 officers — 11 of those from the Grand Rapids Police Department.
“Giglio has to do with the integrity of the officer, mostly focusing on character, honesty and truthfulness,” Weise, of the prosecuting attorney group, said.
Officers caught lying or giving false information are, for the rest of their careers, considered “Giglio-impaired.”
It dates back to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling named after a bank fraud suspect, John Giglio. It can lead to dismissed criminal cases, or charges never being filed.
“When you have an officer whose credibility you’re questioning, it makes it very tough to move forward with a case,” Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said. “I think that’s very unfair to the public. It’s very unfair to the victims of a crime.”
Among the Grand Rapids Police officers on the list:
An “Officer of the Year” nominee who in March 2019 made “misrepresentations” to supervisors over the use of a department take-home vehicle.
The others from GRPD made the list for incidents dating back at least a dozen years: falsifying records about overtime cards, rest breaks, missed training, a sick leave request, an accident involving a police cruiser, and an investigation into excessive force.
At least four have worked as detectives.
The most recent addition, in September: a Kentwood police officer who “falsified a written document” in a domestic assault case, according to his Giglio letter. He reported it as a “verbal fight only,” even though the suspect admitted hitting the victim.
Target 8 is identifying only those with previously publicized cases, since many of the documented lies happened years ago.
“A Giglio letter does not mean, boy, they’re gone forever,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said. “It’s a matter of it’s something to bring up to defense and to a defense attorney if he should become a witness.”
“It is an issue of credibility, but that’s for ultimately a jury to decide possibly,” he said.
Target 8 surveyed prosecutors across West Michigan for their Giglio lists. While the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan recommends prosecutors keep active lists, some do not.
Wayne County publicly releases its list, which identifies 35 officers and their offenses.
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said he notifies his county’s public defender whenever an officer makes his list.
“For me, it’s all about transparency and being a fair partner in the system,” Hilson said.
He also released his list to Target 8 — identifying two from the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office and one each from Fruitport and Norton Shores. Three have left their departments.
Muskegon County Chief Public Defender Fred Johnson was surprised to learn there were so few on his county’s list.
“If the question is, ‘Should there be more?’ I would be bet my house there should be more,” Johnson said.
In Kalamazoo County, the prosecutor doesn’t keep a list, but knows of four officers who recently qualified for Giglio. All have since left their departments.
“Everybody’s guilty of the little white lie, but that’s not what we’re talking about here,” Getting said.
Target 8 provided Kent County’s Giglio list to the County Office of Defender. The office handles about half of the county’s felony cases.
“Some of the names on the letters that you provided me are names of officers we know and that are still working cases today,” Kent County Office of Defender Director Christopher Dennie said.
He also questioned whether the list is complete. It certainly wasn’t in early 2019, he said, when Vicente Rodriguez-Ortiz went to trial for murder.
The lead detective, a 27-year police veteran, had an impeccable reputation when he took the stand — at least that’s what defense attorneys thought.
“There’s a natural tendency to trust police,” the public defender director said.
The detective’s testimony helped put away Rodriguez-Ortiz for life without parole in February 2019 for the shooting death of 17-year-old Andre Hawkins.
Five months after the trial, the prosecutor’s office sent the detective’s Giglio letter to the public defender.
The officer had been cited for “giving false statements during a witness interview regarding the investigation of a complaint of excessive force,” the Giglio letter states.
“That’s very concerning to me,” the public defender said.
That misconduct was in 2000.
Dennie said the defense attorney would have used that information to impeach the officer’s credibility, had she known.
“Absolutely, absolutely, it’s something that would have been front and center,” the public defender said.
Prosecutor Becker told Target 8 he relies on police departments to turn over names of “Giglio-impaired” officers. He said he has requested the letters every year from all local agencies since he was elected in 2016.
Last year, he said, was the first time Grand Rapids included the detective, even though his misconduct happened nearly two decades before.
He called it an oversight by Grand Rapids police.
“It’s a huge issue,” the public defender said. “It’s too late. The point is to know what we call impeachment evidence ahead of time so that we can use it to question the witness and bring in to question their credibility if it’s necessary. It really goes to credibility.”
In a statement, the Grand Rapids Police Department didn’t respond directly to why the detective wasn’t identified as a “Giglio-impaired” officer until last year.
“What I can say is that under our current system, Giglio letters are provided as required after the disposition of an IAU (Internal Affairs Unit) case to the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” Sgt. Dan Adams wrote to Target 8. “Additionally, the City of Grand Rapids provides an annual correspondence to the Kent County Prosecutor in response to their annual request for a list of officers that have Brady/Giglio eligible disclosures.”