ACLU of Michigan


The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says a Republican candidate for Congress has discriminated against a troupe of drag performers with Down syndrome.

The civil rights group filed a complaint Thursday with the Michigan Civil Rights Department against Peter Meijer, one of several GOP candidates running to replace the newly declared independent Rep. Justin Amash. Meijer denied access to the U.K.-based Drag Syndrome for a performance in a Grand Rapids building he owns during a project affiliated with the international ArtPrize competition.

Grand Rapids Police Department

In a 6-2 vote on Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Civilian Appeals Board determined that Captain Curt Vanderkooi violated the city’s impartial policing policy when he contacted Immigration Customs Enforcement, while off duty, about U.S. Citizen and decorated veteran, Jilmar Ramos Gomez. 

Rusell Olmstead says he voted to reverse the Grand Rapids Police Department’s decision because he says there was a pattern of racial bias in how Vanderkooi contacted ICE. 

Immigration advocates ask city of GR to fire police captain

Feb 27, 2019
John Rothwell

The demand to the City of Grand Rapids comes after the American Civil Liberties Union released emails between the Grand Rapids Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The two groups making the demands are Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.

In the emails between GRPD and ICE, police captain Curt Vanderkooi asks ICE to check the status of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez eight hours after his arrest. Vanderkooi serves as GRPD’s liaison to ICE.

Courtesy Family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

Ramos Gomez was arrested last November after he set a fire and gained access to the helipad at Spectrum Butterworth Hospital. He was taken into custody with his American passport in his possession (a significant detail in this story). He served his sentence, but after the judge released him, ICE told Kent County to hold Ramos Gomez for an extra three days while he faced potential deportation. His family went to pick him up and after they were told ICE was detaining him, they contacted an immigration attorney who provided the documentation proving the veteran marine is an American citizen.

Rachel Peterson, a resident of Ionia, Michigan says in July, Meijer Pharmacist, Richard Kalkman, denied a medically necessary prescription to treat her miscarriage. Merissa Kovach, policy strategist for the ACLU of Michigan filed a letter of complaint with Meijer on behalf of Peterson. 

“The pharmacist told her that he would not fill her prescription in account of being a good Catholic male, and then when she asked to talk to another pharmacist  he said there wasn’t one on staff, and then he refused to transfer her prescription.”  

Sixth circuit

A federal appeals court took aim at Michigan’s sex offender registry law. The court ruled on a narrow legal issue, but suggested the law may be unconstitutional. 

The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals said changes to the law cannot be applied retroactively. That means restrictions could be lifted on hundreds of people on the registry.

But the court went further and said Michigan’s registry law isn’t working as intended and seems designed more to punish offenders than protect the public.

Miriam Aukerman is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Oldyorkguy via Wikimedia | Public Domain /

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan wants Battle Creek officials to drop proposals being designed to regulate panhandling.

The Battle Creek Enquirer reports a letter from the ACLU says a proposed ordinance "will violate the constitutional rights of people who are struggling to survive, will criminalize a great deal of speech other than panhandling and will send a message that poor people are unwelcome in Battle Creek."

The group's letter comes as city commissioners hold public discussions on panhandling.

A suburban Detroit judge accused of sending poor people to jail if they couldn't immediately pay fines has agreed to end pay-or-stay sentences after a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.

An attorney for Eastpointe Judge Carl Gerds III signed the agreement, which was approved Tuesday by a Macomb County judge.

The ACLU of Michigan says there's no dispute that sending someone to jail without checking their ability to pay is unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, it still has occurred in courts around the state.

The Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule that would strengthen the ban on sending poor people to jail if they can't afford to pay fines.

Some District Court judges continue to order so-called pay-or-stay sentences, although the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice in the 1980s.

The proposed rule says a judge cannot send someone to jail for failing to pay a fine unless the defendant can afford it without significant hardship.

Judges could come up with a payment plan or waive all or part of the money owed.

Downtown Grand Rapids photo
Wikimedia | Grguy2011

Is Grand Rapids the next Ferguson?

That's the question that packed hundreds of people into Wealthy Theatre last week to listen to and engage with the ACLU-assembled panel discussing some deeply-rooted issues.

Mark Fancher is the racial justice attorney for the ACLU.

He moderated the 'Avoiding the Next Ferguson' panel in Grand Rapids before a packed house and set the tone by framing the creation of America's police departments in a provocative historic context.