GRPD captain suspended for 20 hours; removed as ICE liaison

An undated photo of Curt VanderKooi.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington’s investigation into a police captain has concluded.

Capt. Curtis VanderKooi was the subject of an internal affairs investigation after reporting Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a former Marine with PTSD, to immigration officials following his arrest at Spectrum Butterworth Hospital.

Ramos-Gomez was ultimately wrongfully detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Specifically, language VanderKooi used in emails discussing Ramos-Gomez with ICE was called into question, where he used the term “loco.”

Grand Rapids Police Department’s internal investigation did not result in disciplinary action for VanderKooi’s actions. But in May, the Civilian Appeals Board decided to overturn that investigation and place disciplinary responsibilities in Washington’s hands.

In a statement, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne says he complied with Washington’s disciplinary decision to suspend VanderKooi for 20 hours without pay.

That suspension has already happened. VanderKooi will also undergo supplementary training within the next 60 days.

VanderKooi has been permanently removed from the responsibility of acting as GRPD’s liaison to ICE. Payne has reassigned the job to the department’s department.

The Grand Rapids police union released a statement disagreeing with the decision:

“The Grand Rapids Police Command Officer’s Association is shocked and dismayed at how the rights of Captain Curt VanderKooi, who has served the City of Grand Rapids for nearly 40 years with honor and integrity, could have his rights so blatantly violated in an effort to discipline him for the first time in his career.  His due process rights, the GRPCOA collective bargaining agreement, along with state law were trampled on throughout the Citizen’s Appeal Board process and now by the final disposition issued by the City Manager.  He, and many others in City Hall, were put on notice and advised of these violations in the form of our grievance which was originally filed May 23, 2019.  We were forced to file this grievance after he was cleared of the most serious accusations following an unprecedented three iterations of the same investigation.

Captain VanderKooi was given a two day suspension, which has recently been served.  The City Manager advised the GRPCOA that he was willing to uphold the original exoneration in exchange for his agreement to retire.  This discipline was unwarranted and is clearly an attempt to appease a vocal group of activists who made him a scape goat for their own political gain.  We will be amending the grievance to appeal this most recent decision by the City Manager.  We are also awaiting a very copious FOIA request involving all the communication reference this investigation and those involved in it.  Captain VanderKooi is pleased to announce he has decided to postpone his original retirement date in 2020 and looks forward to serving the citizens and crime victims in the City of Grand Rapids as Commander of the Investigations Unit for an additional year.”

A City of Grand Rapids spokesperson disputed the union’s claim that VanderKooi was offered exoneration in exchange for his retirement.

“City Manager Mark Washington never contemplated exoneration — nor did he ask for VanderKooi’s retirement,” a statement says. “Washington shared his decision (two days) and Union reps were interested in keeping the captain’s record clean. Washington told them that if he resigned, then there would be no disciplinary action to take.”

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