Michigan Supreme Court finds Grand Rapids Police fingerprinting policy unconstitutional

Decision comes as state civil rights dept. files charges against GRPD

By: - July 22, 2022 5:55 pm

Grand Rapids Police Department on April 12, 2022 with barricades in front of the entrance, anticipating protests after a GRPD officer fatally shot a 26-year-old Black man, Patrick Lyoya, in the head. | Allison R. Donahue

On Friday the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a now discontinued Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) policy of fingerprinting and photographing individuals not charged with a crime is unconstitutional. 

The unanimous decision determined that the GRPD violated the Fourth Amendment rights of two Black teenagers when, in separate incidents, the teens were stopped by police, fingerprinted and photographed without being arrested or charged with a crime. 

The Supreme Court’s decision comes the same day that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) announced it filed discrimination charges against the GRPD. The MDCR is scheduled to hold a news conference in Grand Rapids on Monday, July 25 to discuss the charges.

The MDCR said it is currently investigating about 28 complaints of discrimination against the GRPD, which has recently faced an onslaught of concerns around police brutality in the wake of a Grand Rapids officer shooting and killing Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old unarmed Black man.

The Supreme Court case was filed by Keyon Harrison and Denishio Johnson. 

In 2011, Johnson was stopped in an athletic club parking lot following a complaint to GRPD that an individual was looking into vehicles. Johnson was photographed and fingerprinted by the police and was released without being charged with a crime. 

GRPD Police Captain Curtis VanderKooi, a defendant in the case, arrived on scene after Officer Elliott Bargas and approved of Bargas’s decision to take Johnson’s photograph and fingerprints, according to the case syllabus. 

In 2012, Harrison was stopped after VanderKooi saw him hand another youth a large model train or fire engine. According to the case syllabus, VanderKooi asked another officer to come to the scene and photograph Harrison after following and speaking with him. When asked why his fingerprints were being taken, VanderKooi told Harrison it was “just to clarify again to make sure you are who you say you are,” with Harrison responding, “Okay.” Harrison was released and was not charged with a crime. 

Both cases were reversed with Johnson’s case returned to the Kent Circuit Court for further proceedings and Harrison’s case returned to the Michigan Court of Appeals to determine if the prosecution established Harrison consented to having his fingerprints taken.

VanderKooi was also involved in another racial profiling case when in 2018 he called the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a Marine Corps veteran who authorities arrested and attempted to deport despite Ramos-Gomez having his U.S. passport on him.

According to Jennifer Kalczuk, GRPD’s public information officer, VanderKooi is no longer employed by GRPD.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, which represented Johnson and Harrison, the department’s “photograph and print” policy was used on thousands of people for more than 30 years, with photographs and fingerprints retained by the police indefinitely.

A review of GRPD records revealed the department primarily targeted Black people with the photograph and fingerprint policy. According to the ACLU of Michigan, several hundred incident reports were produced and showed that 75% of the people stopped and subjected to the policy were Black, while 15% were white. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 58.2% of Grand Rapids residents are white, while about 18% are Black. 

The department discontinued the photograph and fingerprint policy in December 2015, according to a statement from the City of Grand Rapids. 

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson is a reporting intern for the Michigan Advance. A recent MSU graduate, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He has reported on community events, breaking news, state policy, and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.

MORE FROM AUTHOR