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Arbitrator rules no just cause in city's disciplining of GRPD captain

Posted at 11:49 AM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 08:14:35-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — An impartial arbitrator ruled last week that the City of Grand Rapids did not have just cause to discipline a GRPD 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.

The Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association says the city has been ordered to revoke and remove the two-day, 20-hour suspension Curtis Vanderkooi had received.

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.

That did not result in disciplinary action for VanderKooi, but the Civilian Appeals Board decided to overturn that investigation and place disciplinary responsibilities in City Manager Mark Washington’s hands.

Ramos-Gomez was ultimately released after being 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.”

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

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VanderKooi was also on administrative leave for two months last year and underwent supplementary training.

His role as GRPD’s liaison to ICE was also reassigned.

The arbitrator’s decision also orders the city to pay VanderKooi back for any lost wages and benefits caused by the disciplinary action.

“I find that the CAB did not provide evidence justifying overturning the IAU exoneration conclusion,” the arbitrator said. “Most of the statements were speculative at best.”

He also questioned the “apparent conclusion that the word ‘loco’ is a word of prejudice.”

“This is not in accord with several reputed and established dictionaries […],” the arbitrator said. “These definitions describe the actions of Mr. Ramos-Gomez at the hospital on November 21, 2018. It is hardly sufficient to conclude that because Captain VanderKooi used this term in one email that he should be found guilty of racial profiling or having violated the Impartial Policing Policy of the City.”

While the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association commended the arbitrator’s decision, they also said it doesn’t come close to restoring “the 40 years of honorable and selfless dedicated service Captain Vanderkooi has given the City of Grand Rapids.”

RELATED: Grand Rapids Police Captain at center of ICE controversy reinstated