GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal lawsuit puts the City of Grand Rapids and its police department on one side and the police union and a former lieutenant on the other as they fight to keep conversations between officers private.
The suit stems from the wrong-way crash of a former Kent County assistant prosecutor and the controversial decision not to test him for drunk driving.
The city and media are strange bedfellows in this case calling for the release of the five recorded conversations fighting the officers involved in the incident and the police union which say the recordings violate their clients’ rights.
It all started on Nov. 19 when an officer called in to say that he had pulled over then Assistant Prosecutor Joshua Kuiper driving the wrong way on a city street and striking a parked, occupied car.
Dispatch recordings show that Officer Adam Ikes called headquarters on the regular line and said: “This crash out here is Josh Kuiper from the prosecutor’s office that’s hammered, going the wrong way on Union and (inaudible) a parked car…”
Lt. Matthew Janiskee interrupted saying: “Stop. Stop. 3407.”
That line 3407 was a line that was thought to be unrecorded and used for sensitive police business. In fact, those calls were recorded.
From the beginning, the city has argued that the recordings were “inadvertent” but in this filing the city says even if they were intentionally recorded, they are still not violations of federal laws against eavesdropping and wiretapping.
The city argues that the officers involved were using city-owned phones to discuss police business and had no reason to believe that their calls were not subject to recording. A concept known as “expectation of privacy.”
“It is obvious from the first and abruptly ended Line 3604 call is that all the employees would be discussing GRPD-related business,” the lawsuit states.
The city says it goes without saying that the officers were never authorized to use the unrecorded line to cover up illegal activities.
City attorneys point to similar cases involving similarly recorded calls by police agencies in South Bend and Ohio where courts determined that cases made in the ordinary course of police work are exempt from the federal anti-wiretapping laws.
Lawyers advocating release say officials were not aware the calls were recorded until more than a month after the incident and after 24 Hour News 8 started asking questions.
In February, Janiskee’s civil attorney suggested that the recordings go far beyond these five recordings.
“Somebody had to have turned it on, somebody had to have known about it,” Andrew Rodenhouse said. “This happened hundreds of times a day for at least two years.”
If the court rules that these recordings are public record and subject to freedom of information requests, there could be two years’ worth of unreleased police conversations once considered private that defense attorneys and reporters will be anxious to see.