Crash victim: Police cover-up ‘disappointing’

Daniel Empson's lawyers say phone recordings show GRPD officer lied in deposition

Daniel Empson
Daniel Empson speaks with 24 Hour News 8's Lynsey Mukomel on Sept. 18, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Attorneys for a man injured in a crash with a former prosecutor say the first police officer on the scene lied to them in a deposition months ago.

The client, Daniel Empson, was getting into his car when former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Joshua Kuiper — who was driving the wrong way on a one-way street — crashed into the vehicle just after midnight on Nov. 19, 2016. The crash sent Empson flying down the street, put him in the hospital and kept him out of work for weeks.

A photo from the scene of a crash involving a Kent County assistant prosecutor, provided by the victim. (Nov. 19, 2016)

“I would’ve rather not had it happen, but in the end I’m hoping some positive stuff can come out of it,” Empson said Monday, speaking exclusively with 24 Hour News 8 in his first in-person interview.

Grand Rapids Police Department brass started investigating how its officers responded to the crash in December after Target 8 got an anonymous tip about it and started asking questions. Last week, the city released recordings of phone calls between the responding officer, Adam Ickes, then-Sgt. Thomas Warwick and former Lt. Matthew Janiskee in which they talked about how to minimize the crash even though Kuiper had apparently admitted he had been drinking. The officers thought the phone line they were using was not being recorded, but it was.

>>Audio recordings and full transcript of phone calls

Empson is suing Kuiper and three bars he was apparently drinking at before the crash. One of Empson’s attorneys at Johnson Law, Brian Molde, said Ickes lied under oath while being deposed in May.

Daniel Empson
Daniel Empson (left, in striped shirt) and his attorneys speak with 24 Hour News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel on Sept. 18, 2017.

When Ickes first called Janiskee, who was the watch commander on duty at the time of the crash, he said Kuiper was “hammered,” after which Janiskee ordered him to switch to the line the officers thought was unrecorded. In one of the calls on that second line, Ickes went on to say that Kuiper was “visibly intox.”

But according to the deposition documents, Ickes told Molde that Kuiper “didn’t have any over signs of heavy intoxication, but he stated he had been drinking, there was a crash.”

The initial call from Ickes to Janiskee was made public months ago. When Molde asked why Ickes used the term “hammered” in that call, Ickes said he didn’t know.

“He said flat out to me, ‘No, that’s not a term I would usually use, but no, and if I was describing someone, I would say visibly intox,'” Molde said Monday. “So we wait for five months four months — lo and behold, he does describe him exactly that way. His initial denial to me, that’s a lie.”

24 Hour News 8 reached out to Ickes and the police officer’s union about the attorneys’ claim that Ickes lied, but had not heard back as of Monday night.

The attorneys say the recordings released last week show the officers tried to downplay Empson’s injuries even before he was examined by a doctor.

“Did he tell you that they, that guy went to the hospital?” Warwick asked Janiskee in one of the calls. “…He was like laughing and joking around, but they boarded him and transported him.”

“I do recall maybe cracking a joke or two as I was lying down as a way to almost cope with the fact that I just literally bounced like a stone 60 feet down that road, but I was definitely lying down the entire time I had interactions with anyone, so you can say I was laughing, but I also wasn’t standing,” Empson told 24 Hour News 8.

The officers also noted that Empson was parked on the wrong side of the street, which he admitted was true.

“Yes, OK, I was parked illegally,” he told 24 Hour News 8. “I will be glad to pay the $50 parking ticket if that’s what comes out of it. But the fact that they’re sitting there trying to plan a cover-up, I mean, it’s incredibly disappointing to have people that you expect to be doing what is in a victim’s best interest — that is, doing what the law says they’re supposed to do — sitting back and saying, ‘How can we get out of this?’ And then joke about afterwards.”

The officers did not ticket Empson for being parked illegally, with Ickes saying in the recordings that he “didn’t want to add insult to injury. … No need to poke the bear.”

>>Inside Complete coverage of the fallout of the crash

After an internal investigation into the way the crash was handled, Ickes and Warwick both received suspensions and Warwick was busted down from sergeant to officer. Janiskee was fired, but is suing to get his job back.

Empson’s attorney, Ven Johnson, was emphatic he thought all three men should have lost their jobs — as GRPD Chief David Rahinsky and the city manager initially recommended — and said he intends to write letters to the mayor and Rahinsky urging them to reopen their internal investigation.

Empson’s father and stepfather worked for the Michigan Department of Corrections for decades. He said he respects law enforcement, but any abuse of power needs to be addressed.

“We should be doing things from a moral standard that benefits everyone, not just the people we know,” he said. “It shouldn’t matter when you’re talking about the law and application of justice — and even then, the law shouldn’t have to be factored into it. If people just behaved the right way anyways, you wouldn’t have to worry about that stuff.”