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The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is reviewing 23 new complaints of discrimination against the Grand Rapids Police Department after two earlier complaints were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The MDCR held two sessions in March to hear from residents.

"The listening sessions had a packed venue and over the course of the night, we heard from many people and received written comments and complaints of discriminatory misconduct," MDCR Director Agustin V. Arbulu told The Detroit News. "Our intent is to investigate the claims as a neutral party and determine if the actions did take place and if it continues to take place, we will file one or more formal charges of discrimination."

The March 28 listening sessions were held after the ACLU filed complaints with MDCR against Grand Rapids police, alleging the department discriminated against a mentally ill Marine in November and a 15-year-old boy last month, both of Latino descent.

The Grand Rapids Police Department reinstated Capt. Curtis VanderKooi last week saying he didn't violate department policy when he reported Jilmar Ramos-Gomez to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The captain was placed on administrative leave Feb. 28 when concerns were raised about his actions involving Ramos-Gomez, who was arrested in November after allegedly setting a fire and gaining access to the heliport at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. Ramos-Gomez, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was held for three days. The ACLU alleges the captain racially profiled him. 

►More: Grand Rapids cop returning to job after veteran arrest uproar

The 23 complaints double the number of cases the MDCR had open against the police department before the listening sessions.

"We have an obligation under law to neutrally investigate all complaints of discrimination that fall under our jurisdiction," Arbulu said. "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."

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Grand Rapids police found Jilmar Ramos-Gomez's passport on him and were informed of his Marine status. Officers proceeded to call ICE. Sarah Rahal, The Detroit News

Body cam footage of Ramos-Gomez' arrest obtained by The Detroit News through Freedom of Information Act requests shows Grand Rapids police officers were aware of Ramos-Gomez' citizenship status and military service before placing him in custody.

Grand Rapids Interim Police Chief David Kiddle said the department is focused on transparency and welcomes the review by MDCR.

“Our doors are always open for anyone who wants to see how we are doing our job and offer ideas for how we can better serve our community," Kiddle said in a statement. "We take all concerns brought forward by community members very seriously – whether it’s through our Internal Affairs process or an outside agency. We have clear expectations for how our officers conduct themselves and interact with community members. We take our impartial policing policy very seriously and, as such, we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our department."

During an investigation, the police department and complainants have the opportunity to present evidence. MDCR said if formal charges are filed, the Civil Rights Commission would hold a hearing.

"While the number of complaints alone does not indicate discriminatory patterns and practices are at play, we believe they do warrant a thorough investigation," Arbulu said.

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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