GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A termination hearing was held Tuesday for Lt. Matthew Janiskee, the highest-ranking Grand Rapids Police Department officer involved in the questionable handling of a former assistant prosecutor’s alcohol-related crash last year.
No decision has yet been made about whether he will keep his job. City spokesman Steve Guitar told 24 Hour News 8 that there is no timeline for “resolution of this matter.”
Former assistant prosecutor Josh Kuiper crashed into a parked car, injuring a man, while driving the wrong way on Union Avenue SE in Grand Rapids on Nov. 19, 2016. Records say alcohol was a factor, body camera footage shows Kuiper was slurring his words and the first officer on the scene described him as “hammered” — but he wasn’t given a breathalyzer test or arrested.
The city manager and police chief recommended that the three officers who handled the situation, Officer Adam Ickes, then-Sgt. Thomas Warwick and Janiskee, all be terminated. However, after appeal hearings, both Ickes and Warwick will keep their jobs. Ickes accepted a 30-day suspension without pay, while Warwick was busted down to officer and suspended for 160 hours without pay. Both will also be on probation for two years.
“I do not take lightly the severity of the bad decisions that these employees made,” Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday.
He said the discipline Ickes and Warwick accepted is appropriate for letting the assistant prosecutor off with a ticket for driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
“It is not a slap on the wrist,” Sundstrom said. “I firmly hold that the purpose of discipline is not to punish, but to rehabilitate employees.”
Sundstrom has previously acknowledged the relationship between police and the community in Grand Rapids needs work. A few years ago, he helped create a 12-point plan to improve that relationship.
“I think there are a number of reasons that chip away at the trust between the community and the police. Probably many of them are national events more than what’s happening in Grand Rapids,” Sundstrom said Tuesday. “We have had things happen in Grand Rapids as well. I agree with you this is one of those things that erodes that trust, but I also believe that we have a strong department with a high level of integrity, that generally there is not a good reason to question that trust.”
But the recorded police phone call from Ickes to Janiskee, the watch commander on duty the night of the crash, may lead to the perception that there is a culture within GRPD that allows for cover-ups when government employees find themselves in trouble.
Sundstrom says he does not believe there is a culture of special treatment at GRPD.
“That there is a culture that means it’s held by most if not all and I don’t know if that’s fair for you say,” Sundstrom said.
However, Ickes knew to call command once he realized the driver worked in the prosecutor’s office. And in a recording of that call, Janiskee automatically tells Ickes to stop talking and call a phone line believed to be unrecorded to discuss the matter further.
Janiskee is a decorated 20-year policeman who is also married to a Kent County assistant prosecutor.
The internal investigation into the handling of the crash began in January on the same day 24 Hour News 8 started looking into it after getting an anonymous tip. The police chief previously said that 24 Hour News 8’s interview with the prosecutor prompted the internal investigation. It’s unclear if the incident would have even been uncovered otherwise.
The Kalamazoo prosecutor who investigated the officers’ response determined they did not violate the law.
However, a judge ruled on Friday there was enough evidence to send Kuiper to trial on charges of reckless driving causing serious injury and a moving violation causing injury. Daniel Empson, the person hurt in the crash, is also suing Kuiper, who has since resigned from his post.
****CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Officer Thomas Warwick was suspended for 160 days, based on an earlier statement by the city spokesperson. He has since corrected that statement to 160 hours, which is reflected in the above story.***