The recordings were made inadvertently as Grand Rapids police investigated the traffic crash involving then-Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Josh Kuiper, who allegedly drove the wrong way down a one-way street before crashing into a parked car, injuring a man.
On the recordings, Officer Adam Ickes tells his supervisor, then-Lt. Matthew Janiskee, during a phone call that Kuiper appears intoxicated and that he had admitted that he had been drinking. But Kuiper was not asked to take a breathalyzer test for alcohol and was not charged with drunken driving.
The recordings of five phone calls from November 2016 were released to MLive following a court battle, the Grand Rapids city manager's office said.
Ickes is heard telling Janiskee, "I got Josh Kuiper from the prosecutor's office — wrong way — visibly intox ... as I approached, driving the wrong way and struck a parked car. There was a guy getting into the car at the time who got knocked to the ground — not sure on injuries at this point."
Janiskee responds, "Can we do sobriety and go from there? Let's pass him if we can. If we can't, we can't. I'd like to pass him on sobriety," referring to a field sobriety test in which an officer asks a motorist to perform a set of tasks that are difficult to perform when drunk.
"All right. I'll do what I can," Ickes says.
In another phone call, Sgt. Thomas Warwick, who was also investigating the crash, is heard telling Janiskee that Kuiper is "gonna get a ticket for driving the wrong way on a one-way."
"OK," Janiskee responds.
"And then that's it," Warwick says.
Kuiper later was charged with reckless driving causing injury and resigned from the prosecutor's office.
Ickes and Warwick were suspended without pay. Janiskee was fired and is suing the city, saying his rights were violated when he was unknowingly recorded. None of the officers was charged with a crime.
Janiskee's attorney, Andrew Rodenhouse, said Wednesday that it was natural for the officers to want to give Kuiper "a break" because, "They know him. He's on their side." He also described the calls as "workshop banter."
"These are police officers — guys who every day deal with high-pressure, high-stress jobs working in a big city," Rodenhouse said. "People speak differently when they don't think they are being recorded."
The calls were made on a police phone line marked "non-recorded," but internal investigators looking into the officers' actions discovered that calls on that line actually had been recorded since 2010. Grand Rapids said in a federal court filing that the recording was accidental and that no one at the city knew it was happening until December 2016.
MLive Media Group, which operates a number of Michigan newspapers, sued to have the recordings released under the Freedom of Information Act. The city initially denied the request, waiting for the federal court to determine whether releasing the recordings would violate federal wiretapping laws, but Michigan's appeals court ruled Tuesday that they should be released.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom said Wednesday that he and other city officials were "outraged by the actions of these officers."
"The city does not tolerate this type of behavior and, as such, we took swift disciplinary action,” he said.