Michigan civil rights dept. launches investigations into Grand Rapids police

    MDCR Executive Director Agustin Arbulu listens to Attorney General Dana Nessel | Ken Coleman

    Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) announced Tuesday it will investigate 23 discrimination complaints against the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD).

    That announcement comes after the MDCR held two “listening sessions” in the West Michigan city in late March. It’s also a week after the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) called for an independent investigation into two specific cases involving people of Latino descent, as the Advance reported.

    GRPD HQ
    The Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters. | Nick Manes

    The MDCR did not disclose the specific details of the cases it’s investigating. Director Augustin Arbulu said in a statement on Tuesday that the department will investigate every complaint it receives to see if conduct related to any of them violated the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

    MDCR spokesperson Vicki Levengood confirmed to the Advance Tuesday that the two cases raised by the ACLU and MIRC last week are among those being investigated.

    “We have an obligation under law to neutrally investigate all complaints of discrimination that fall under our jurisdiction,” Arbulu said in a statement. “In addition to investigating each complaint on its individual merits, we will be reviewing the complaints from a broader perspective to see if there is evidence of a pattern and practice of systemic discrimination.”

    A GRPD spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

    The MDCR says its investigations could lead to a number of different outcomes in cases in which there hasn’t already been a settlement, including dismissal of the complaint or conciliation in cases with sufficient evidence of discrimination. Under the latter, MDCR would encourage action to be taken to prevent discrimination from happening again and move to close the case once a resolution is reached.

    Attorneys Miriam Aukerman (L) and Hillary Scholten (R) in Grand Rapids | Nick Manes

    The state department also could recommend a formal discrimination charge that would result in an administrative hearing. Additionally, it could move for hearings by either the state’s Civil Rights Commission or circuit courts.

    In prepared remarks delivered to reporters on Tuesday in Grand Rapids, Arbulu stressed that these are just investigations at this point, and not accusations of wrongdoing.

    “Today’s actions do not amount to a conclusion that any wrongdoing took place. That is a question that can only be answered based upon the evidence we gather from both parties,” Arbulu said. “The same standard of neutrality will be exercised when we investigate the individual complaints from a broader perspective to determine if the discriminatory practices of the GRPD are systemic.”

    Nick Manes
    Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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