GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association is accusing top city officials of interfering with the arrest of two people who they say led a group of marchers to bust through police lines during a protest last year.

Union leaders mentioned the incident at a Thursday news conference called to criticize the placement of Grand Rapids Police Department Capt. Curt VanderKooi on administrative leave in connection to the wrongful immigration detention of a U.S. citizen and Marine veteran.

Target 8 investigators were already looking into the May 1, 2018, incident and have obtained police reports and bodycam video that shows marchers suddenly veering off Grandville Avenue onto a side street as police officers tried but failed to keep them on the main route. The video shows one man running through police tape and dragging it with him. 

A few days after the march, police reviewed the bodycam video and got City Attorney Anita Hitchcock to approve arrest warrants for two people for disobeying officers. A judge signed the warrants, according to documents Target 8 investigators got through the Freedom of Information Act. But then Hitchcock suddenly withdrew the warrants.

On Thursday, GRPD Cap. Geoff Collard, the vice president of the command officers union, suggested interference from above.

“The acting city manager and the mayor became involved and the warrants were quashed,” he told reporters, reading from prepared comments (PDF).

When Target 8 investigators began asking questions in December, Mayor Roslynn Bliss said in an email exchange that while she did get a “brief update” on the case, she “did not ask or encourage her (the city attorney) to do anything.”

“I did not—nor would I ever—ask our City Attorney to drop an arrest warrant,” she added.

When asked why Hitchcock would approve and then withdraw the warrants, a city spokesperson told Target 8 investigators that “in the light of the global conversation around immigration at that time, the City Attorney determined it was reasonable and in the best interest of justice to dismiss any charges against the individuals who disregarded instructions by our police officers.”

The spokesperson, Amy Snow-Buckner, prefaced that by writing:

“We are committed to being a welcoming and inclusive community where individuals are able to communicate their messages and exercise their First Amendment right in a safe and peaceful manner.”

But Collard, the union vice president, disagreed.

“There’s no clearer example that our city leadership would rather appease these groups who intentionally violate the law,” he said Thursday.

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