New emails raise questions about GRPD, ICE handling of vet’s arrest

Posted at 11:05 PM, Feb 25, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — New emails between Grand Rapids Police officers and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials are deepening the mystery into why a U.S. citizen and Marine Corps veteran was detained and prepared for deportation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan provided FOX17 with the correspondence that took place in the days after the arrest of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez.

Courtesy: ACLU Michigan

The 27-year-old was taken into custody Nov. 21 after allegedly trying to set a fire and access the helipad at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.

A police report from that night shows Gomez was arrested with two backpacks, containing among them his passport, his license, and his USMC dog tags – all indicators he is a citizen, says ACLU lawyer Miriam Auckerman.

“It’s here in black and white,” she said, “there’s no way to read this other than to say that it’s racial profiling.”

Gomez suffers from PTSD, and in screenshots of a text message to an FBI contact, a GRPD officer states that and declares it is not an FBI issue.

But hours after that text message was sent, GRPD Captain Curt VanderKooi emailed the details of the case to ICE official Derek Klifman and asked if he could “please check his status.”

“There’s no way to understand that other than ‘check his immigration status’ and there’s no reason to check his immigration status,” said Auckerman.

Klifman forwarded that request to an ICE deportation officer named Matthew Lopez. Gomez was held in custody and three days later, on Nov. 23, Lopez emailed both VanderKooi and Klifman saying: “I was able to interview that subject at Kent County this morning, and he is a foreign national illegally in the U.S.” before thanking VanderKooi for the lead.

Days later, on Nov. 26, Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Helmer responds to the email and even the law official prosecuting Gomez’s case seems puzzled. In the email he writes: “I’m confused. Didn’t his property have a US Passport in it? And he was a veteran?!”

Hours earlier, VanderKooi had emailed Klifman and another GRPD officer a copy of the report (which indicated Gomez was found with a passport, license, and dog tags) with the subject line: Spectrum Helicopter Pad Loco.

Loco is commonly used Spanish slang to describe someone with a mental illness.

GRPD declined to comment specifically on the emails, instead referring FOX17 to a statement they issued last Friday upon the completion of their internal investigation.

In it, they said because of the nature of Gomez’s charges, VanderKooi felt the actions constituted a terroristic threat, promoting his referral of Gomez to ICE. The report only reprimands VanderKooi for his use of improper language during the investigation, a likely reference to the subject line containing “loco.”

Ramos-Gomez is receiving mental health care. He was a lance corporal in the Marines and received awards for service in Afghanistan. The ACLU said his PTSD had a role in the disturbance at the hospital.

Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young announced last week her department would no longer be detaining people for ICE without a judge’s warrant, calling the whole thing a “very unfortunate situation” for Ramos-Gomez.

“We believe this case underscores the need for immigration policy reform,” the sheriff said last week.