Fired GRPD lt. fights to keep recordings private

An undated courtesy photo of then-Grand Rapids Police Department Lt. Matthew Janiskee.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids wants a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit designed to keep police recordings from the press and being used against a fired 20-year police lieutenant.

The lawsuit puts the city and its police department on one side against the police union and a former lieutenant as they fight to keep conversations between officers private.

But in a switch, the side fighting to keep the recording out of the public eye said it may be the city that is looking to cover things up.

This all stems from the Nov. 19 incident 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. The prosecutor was not given a breathalyzer test or arrested, but was driven home by police.

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 thought to be unrecorded and used for sensitive police business. However, those calls were recorded.

From the beginning, the city has argued that the recordings were “inadvertent” but in this filing the city said 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.”

Two officers involved were punished, but kept their jobs, while Janiskee was fired.

Now the city and the former lieutenant are in court battling over the termination and also over the fact that the non-recorded line was actually recorded.

The city and the media say the recordings should be public.

Janiskee’s attorney, Andrew Rodenhouse, said the city violated his constitutional rights by recording the call.

The city also said there was a policy that let police employees know their calls could be subject to recording, even if it clearly marked as “non-recorded.”

“The fact that the phone itself says it’s not recorded, that has to trump any 1984 policy that nobody could testify they’re aware of,” Rodenhouse said.

The city has only said that the line was inadvertently recorded, but has not said how that happened. Rodenhouse said the actions needed to take to make the line recorded takes special clearance and is a multistep process.

“If you marked a line as not being recorded, record it anyway, that would not be routine,” said Rodenhouse.

Now, the city is asking a federal judge to dismiss the suit without explaining exactly how the recording — which reportedly contains two years of recordings — was made.

“The timing of their motion, in filing it before the court before the court even sets a discovery deadline, trying to shut this whole thing down really does raise more questions,” said Rodenhouse.

He said the city is seeking to avoid the questions.

“What are they trying to hide?” Rodenhouse said.

Rodenhouse said that his client has the right to control the recordings.

“He wants the ability to show that, look, this isn’t what people think it is,” Rodenhouse said. “Lt. Janiskee was a highly-decorated Grand Rapids police officer.”

But there is more than just clearing his name here.

“He wants either his job back or he wants money for getting fired,” Rodenhouse said.

Meanwhile, there is a separate state case where the media is seeking to get the recordings under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the same time, the former prosecutor continues to face both a criminal case making their way through the courts.