A Latino Veteran Wins $190K Settlement After Being Detained By ICE While Carrying His US Passport
Grand Rapids, Michigan has agreed to pay a $190,000 settlement to Latino-American veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, 28, after he was wrongfully detained by ICE for three days last December. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) filed the complaint on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez’s behalf in the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, saying Ramos-Gomez was discriminated against based on his race. The City Commission unanimously agreed to pay the former marine the $190,000 settlement on Veterans Day.
Ramos-Gomez was born in Michigan and served in a war zone for three years. He returned home only to be detained by ICE, and to have the Captain of the Grand Rapids Police Department mock his disability.
Jilmar Ramos-Gomez is a medal-decorated, retired Marine with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
He served between October 2011 to August 2014 and rose through the ranks from tank crewman to lance corporal. Ramos-Gomez has been awarded numerous medals for his service in Afghanistan, which has affected him with PTSD. Ramos-Gomez suffers episodes of memory loss, during which he disappears and acts erratically, without recollection. In November 2018, Ramos-Gomez allegedly set a small fire at a hospital, pulled a fire alarm and was found on the hospital’s helipad during one of those PTSD episodes. He was promptly arrested and pled guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
Later, his photo appeared on the local news, along with the details of his arrest. Grand Rapids police Captain Curt VanderKooi was watching, and upon seeing Ramos-Gomez’s face, asked ICE officer, Derek Klifman, to “please check his status” in an email obtained by the ACLU. Deportation Officer Matthew Lopez was dispatched to interview Ramos-Gomez at the Kent County Jail, who allegedly “claimed in verbal statements to be a foreign national illegally present in the US,” according to an ICE statement. Officer Lopez emailed Cpt. VanderKooi to thank him for the lead.
Cpt. VanderKooi mocked Ramos-Gomez’s mental health in further emails.
Cpt. VanderKooi forwarded the email chain to the detective assigned to Ramos-Gomez’s trespassing charge, but changed the subject line to read “Spectrum Helicopter Pad Loco,” according to documents obtained by the ACLU, mocking the veteran’s PTSD as “loco” or “crazy.” “It is not clear what mad intent was involved in this breach of hospital security but here is the report,” Cpt. VanderKooi added in the email. Another police officer forwarded the chain to a prosecutor, who replied, “I am confused. Didn’t his property have a U.S. Passport in it? And he was a veteran?!” The officer simply responded, “Who knows, not sure it was a US passport. … I am not sure about the vet thing.”
Later, Cpt. VanderKooi was placed on a 20-hour unpaid suspension for “discourteous complaint,” says Grand Rapids Police Department spokesman Sgt. John Wittkowski.
Local authorities transferred Ramos-Gomez from jail into ICE custody, even though he had his American passport on his person.
The ACLU obtained body camera footage from the arresting officer that shows Ramos-Gomez’s United States passport in his hands. Later, footage proves that the passport was key in identifying Ramos-Gomez. One officer asked if he had been identified, to which the officer responds, “His passport is down there.” Ramos-Gomez was detained in an ICE detention facility from Dec. 14 to 17.
The Grand Rapids Police Department has maintained that its involvement of ICE was not because of Ramos-Gomez’s Spanish name or brown skin.
It “did so solely on the nature” of his actions, according to NBC News. “Contacting ICE is not a routine part of our investigative process. Rather, we did this in light of the potential risk to the public’s safety, specifically through a possible act of terrorism,” Interim Police Chief David Kiddle said in the statement. That said, another Grand Rapids Police officer described the same ‘potential risk’ as “Vet, PTSD, But not a FBI issue” in a text to an FBI official.
“Here is an officer who sees someone who is Latino, who has a Latino sounding name, and contacts ICE,” senior ACLU of Michigan attorney, Miriam Aukerman, told NBC News. “We hope that as a community we can learn from his case, and that the City of Grand Rapids and its police department will adopt further policy changes and commit to systemic reforms to ensure that no one else has to suffer what Mr. Ramos-Gomez endured,” Auckerman said in a statement.
Since Ramos-Gomez’s case has become known around the nation, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office has announced a new policy. It will no longer detain on behalf of ICE without a warrant from a judge.