Michigan Supreme Court to Hear ACLU of Michigan’s Appeal in the Case of Grand Rapids Police Collecting Photos and Fingerprints of Black Youth Never Charged with a Crime

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
March 1, 2021 4:45 pm

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s (ACLU) appeal in the cases of two Black teenagers who were detained, photographed, and fingerprinted by the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) despite both teens never facing any criminal charges. One teen was simply admiring a friend’s toy fire truck, and the other was taking a shortcut through a parking lot.

The cases, Johnson v. VanderKooi and Harrison v. VanderKooi, will determine whether the GRPD’s practice of taking photographs and collecting fingerprints of people who are never charged with a crime and then storing their personal biometric data – the so called “photograph and print” policy – is unconstitutional. GRPD Captain Curt VanderKooi, who racially profiled and called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on U.S. Marine combat veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez in 2019, is a defendant in both cases.

The incidents involving Harrison and Johnson took place in 2011 and 2012:

  • Keyon Harrison, a Black 16-year-old, was walking home from school when he helped another youth carry a toy fire truck. Captain VanderKooi stopped Keyon, and took his picture and fingerprints. Even though Keyon was simply admiring a toy, his photo and fingerprints are now in a police database.
  • Denishio Johnson, a Black 15-year-old, was walking through an athletic club parking lot, when he was similarly stopped, photographed, and fingerprinted by a GRPD officer, despite never being charged with a crime.

Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney, has this reaction:

“Under the GRPD’s ‘photograph and print’ practice you can have your fingerprints and picture taken even though the police never charge you with a crime. Taking the fingerprints and photographs of innocent Black youths, and entering them into a police database, is wrong, and violates the Fourth Amendment. We are glad that the Michigan Supreme Court will review this dangerous policy which invades people’s privacy and encourages racial profiling.”

The ACLU’s application for leave to appeal, and the Michigan Supreme Court’s order granting leave, are here:

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