Grand Rapids Police Captain at center of ICE controversy reinstated

Posted at 1:31 PM, Apr 26, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A Grand Rapids Police Captain who had been placed on leave for his actions involving the handling of a former Marine wrongfully detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is heading back to work.

Captain Curtis Vanderkooi, a veteran of the Grand Police Department, will be reinstated to full duty effective Monday, April 29, according to the department.  Vanderkooi has been on administrative leave since February 28.

Vanderkooi was investigated for his involvement in the case of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, who was arrested after he set a fire at Spectrum Health in downtown Grand Rapids and gained access to the heliport atop the hospital.  While Ramos-Gomez was in custody, Vanderkooi contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “check his status” according to the ACLU, even though Ramos-Gomez had identification and a passport on him.

Emails after the arrest of Ramos-Gomez showed when Vanderkooi contacted ICE to check on Ramos-Gomez’s status, he used the word “loco” to describe Ramos-Gomez.  “Loco” is a common Spanish slang term for “crazy.”

Internal Affairs of GRPD found that Vanderkooi had not violated the department’s impartial policing policy, but decided to “coach” Vanderkooi “based on unprofessional conduct” in the email.

Vanderkooi still has an appeal of his case and that is scheduled to be heard before the Civilian Appeals Board on May 15.  The police union responded to the news of Vanderkooi’s reinstatement saying they are “concerned with the length of time it took to reach this resolution”, but added they are “pleased with the findings.”

The department says they are moving the U-visa certification process to be part of the department’s Records Unit, instead of the Investigations Division.  Vanderkooi is the commander of the Investigations Division.

Ramos-Gomez has been 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 announced the department would no longer be detaining people for ICE without a judge’s warrant as this investigation unfolded.

The Grand Rapids City Manager, Mark Washington, released this statement:

As City Manager, I’m committed to ensuring due process in matters of both civil rights and employee rights. Based on the results of our Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit investigation, Captain VanderKooi will be taken off administrative leave and return to regular duty.

The findings of the investigation were appealed by the complainants, and that appeal will be heard by the Civilian Appeals Board on May15. That is the next step in the process, and I ask that the community honor that process.

Because of the appeal, I’m not able to comment further on the specifics of the investigation at this time. What I can say is that this entire matter has given the Chief and I reason to re­ examine Police Department policies in regard to interactions with federal authorities. I’ve asked Chief Kiddle to update those policies so the department can be very clear about expectations.

Good working relationships among our officers and residents is the foundation of strong community. That has been a guiding principle for me as we establish the future of our Police Department. You will see that reflected not just in updates to policy but also in my search for a new police chief. I expect someone who is tough on crime, culturally competent and an innovative leader – someone who keeps Grand Rapids safe through proactive communications, relationship building and a conviction to building communities.

You’ll also see my commitment in the proposed budget, which allocates funding for additional training, staffing, mental and behavioral resources, and violence prevention programming.
These things will help us turn the corner on community-police relations.

Grand Rapids is an engaged and collaborative city, and it belongs to everyone who calls this place home. We have an opportunity moving forward to demonstrate how we can work together toward positive outcomes in a collaborative way.