GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Lawyers representing two different cases concerning a potential cover up by three Grand Rapids police officers are reacting to recently released audio recordings.
This follows a wrong way crash involving a former Kent County prosecutor, who was believed to be under the influence a the time. The recordings were released this week after the City of Grand Rapids was given an order by a Michigan Court of Appeals judge.
On November 19, 2016, former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuiper was accused of driving the wrong way drunk down Union Avenue, hitting a parked car and injuring Daniel Empson, who was reaching inside the vehicle at the time. Kuiper was met by police, issued a citation and a field sobriety test - but not a breathalyzer.
Empson is now suing Kuiper for injuries he says he sustained during that crash. He's being represented by attorney Ven Johnson.
Tapes released Wednesday reveal former Lieutenant Matthew Janiskee talking with Officer Adam Ickes and former Sergeant Thomas Warwick discussing how to handle the severity of the crash: Janiskee and Ickes agreed to pass Kuiper's sobriety tests. The discussion went further when Warwick asked Janiskee what to do if the Lieutenant's wife, who works in the Kent County Prosecutor's Office, would investigate.
Empson's lawyer says the calls are appalling and says anyone who hears the tapes should be outraged.
"Anybody that hears the facts and circumstances of this entire situation should be outraged and should be writing letters and sending emails to their public officials in the City of Grand Rapids," said Ven Johnson, attorney for Empson.
The attorney for Janiskee however says the calls were illegally recorded, an argument cited in their lawsuit against the City of Grand Rapids.
"The optics on it are bad, I get it, but at the end of the day, nothing was ever covered up," said Andrew Rodenhouse, Janiskee's lawyer
The calls were made on a city phone line known as 3407, also called the "unrecorded" line. Rodenhouse agrees the recordings don't portray the men in a favorable light, but says there was no intentional cover up.
"When I listen to the recordings, what I hear is officer banter, crude talk, but it would be your typical locker room police banter that you would expect to hear and not expecting that you're being recorded," said Rodenhouse.
Ven Johnson says these officers broke the law and tried to cover up what they're supposed to protect and serve.
"They tried to cover up one of their own officials, an assistant county prosecutor was drunk, openly drunk, hit our client who was doing nothing wrong by sweeping it under the rug," said Johnson.
Rodenhouse says the bigger issue at hand is the calls being recorded in the first place. He says the officers did not know the calls were being recorded, which goes against the state's anti-eavesdropping laws.
"This just increases the damages if we are ever able to establish, and we believe we will establish, that there was wiretapping," said Rodenhouse. "This just makes the damages go up and it means the city would have to pay more in damages."
Bottom line, he says, there was no cover up.
"They completely documented the crash scene, they noted that alcohol might've been a factor and this whole case had been reviewed by the Michigan State Police, by the Kalamazoo [County] prosecutor's office, and they determined that there wasn't any crime committed by these officers," said Rodenhouse. "They did determine that there was probably cause to file charges against Mr. Kuiper and they did so, they charged him with a five year felony as well as a one year misdemeanor. At the end of the day, nothing had ever been covered up."
"What the community needs to know is after this accident, after the police officers responded to the scene, these officers chose dereliction of duty," said Johnson. "They chose to ignore their own training. They knew what they were doing, they did it intentionally to try to hide it from the rest of us and they talked about how they should let this assistant prosecutor go home even though he was drunk."
Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky told FOX 17 Wednesday he found the whole incident appalling, saying it doesn't represent the hard work of the men and women in the department. Rahinsky also said the officers were immediately suspended after he heard the tapes, but state police and the Kalamazoo prosecutor investigated and decided not to file criminal charges against them.
Janiskee was fired after the incident. Warwick was demoted and suspended for 160 hours. Ickes was also suspended for 160 hours.
Johnson says they're going to review all of the information to see where they should go from here.
Meanwhile, Janiskee's lawsuit against the City of Grand Rapids is still working its way through federal court.