Urban leader: Prosecutor crash calls ‘breed mistrust’

Phone call recordings show how GRPD officers handled wrong-way crash

GRPD, Lt. Matthew Janiskee, phone, 3407
A photo from court documents filed in federal court by Matthew Janiskee's attorneys shows a GRPD phone lists line 3407 as "non recorded."

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Community reaction to five recorded phone calls between Grand Rapids police officers about a former assistant prosecutor’s wrong-way car crash has been swift and unsparing.

Many are condemning the actions of the officers in this case and the department’s practices.

One Grand Rapids urban outreach organization says the content of the calls released Wednesday echo what some have been saying for years about interactions with the Grand Rapids Police Department.

“I think the events that came out today kind of also verify what the community’s been saying all along and that is that not all police officers treat all people in the city of Grand Rapids the same way all the time,” Jeremy DeRoo, the executive director of LINC UP, told 24 Hour News 8.

DeRoo says the content of the calls, in which officers discuss how to downplay the apparent drunken driving crash of a then-assistant prosecutor, will mean one step back for GRPD.

>>Audio recordings and full transcript

“That breeds mistrust with communities and it’s something that has to be taken seriously and addressed,” DeRoo said. “It’s been a difficult year for the credibility of the Grand Rapids Police Department with the traffic study results came out as they did, with some of the reactions to issues that have happened in the community in the spring and this now as well.”

DeRoo said everything that has unfolded this year is why public accountability and transparency need to be top priority for the department’s administration. He recognizes that officials have been working on that with task force teams designed to bridge the gap in public trust.

After the story broke Wednesday morning, many on WOOD TV8’s Facebook page posted with strong opinions and calling for more action.

“The chief and each of his assistants should be fired. The State Attorney General needs to investigate this incident.” Larry Clark commented.

“The Grand Rapids Police Department has a culture that encourages the type of behavior that is demonstrated in these calls. I have personally witnessed multiple GRPD officers commit perjury on the stand in open court to cover up for themselves, their fellow officers, and prosecutors. It is so prevalent that it leads me to conclude that it is cultural. This pattern of behavior has been brought to Chief Rahinsky’s attention, as well as to the attention of the council members in Grand Rapids, and nothing has been done to address the cultural issues that lead to this type of behavior happening again and again,” James William Lowry posted.

“What else has come across line 3407??? How many of the GRPDs friends have gotten away with committing crimes using this line? It looks like SOP to send calls there when they don’t want info to get out,” Jennifer Lanning wrote.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the fallout of the crash

Despite harsh criticism like that, DeRoo said the tapes aren’t totally damaging. He believes there are committed people inside and outside department who working toward better police relations.