Former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Joshua J. Kuiper has been ordered to stand trial on a felony charge stemming from an alcohol-related crash in November that injured a man retrieving his coat from a parked car.
A judge made that determination Friday, March 3, after hearing testimony from two witnesses, including Daniel Empson, who was injured when his vehicle was struck by Kuiper’s pickup after Kuiper left a retirement party for his outgoing boss.
The case also generated three lawsuits and suspensions for three Grand Rapids police officers involved in the investigation; a lieutenant faces a termination hearing next week.
Kuiper’s attorney sought to have the charge dismissed, saying injuries to Empson do not rise to a felony offense.
Empson, 34, testified that he suffered injuries to his right shoulder, back, left hip, legs and head. Three staples were used to close a wound in his left temple, Empson testified.
Although he’s on the mend, Empson said the injuries continue to plague him and he has limited motion in his right arm.
“All of the injuries basically meant that I still haven’t slept in a bed since it happened more than one or two nights because my back would hurt,’’ he told the court. “I couldn’t sleep on my right side because of the right shoulder injury; I couldn’t sleep on my left side because of the hip, so that’s been impacted.’’
An orthopedic surgeon who reviewed the case, but did not treat Empson, said Empson’s right arm was in a ‘simple sling’ for several weeks to protect a “minimally displaced fracture’’ of a shoulder bone, called the greater tuberosity.
He described it as being on the “more minor end’’ of an injury spectrum and could be fully healed in six months to a year.
Defense attorney Craig Haehnel said the shoulder injury does not justify a felony charge of reckless driving causing serious impairment of a body function, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. Kuiper also faces a misdemeanor charge of moving violation causing serious impairment of a body function, which carries a 93-day term.
“He’s back to work somewhere between one and three days,’’ Haehnel said of Empson. “The injury wasn’t so severe that he even took part in physical therapy.’’
Allegan District Court Judge Joseph S. Skocelas, who was appointed to hear the case, said while Empson didn’t suffer a serious fracture, he still doesn’t have full use of his right arm.
“The injury to Mr. Empson did cause the loss of the use of his right arm and that would qualify as a serious impairment of a bodily function,’’ Skocelas said in ordering Kuiper to stand trial.
Kuiper, who is free on a $5,000 bond, declined comment. Haehnel said he was “stunned’’ by the judge’s ruling to send the case to circuit court.
“It’s just hard to believe that a hairline fracture with missing work from one to three days could be considered a serious personal injury,’’ Haehnel said. “He returned to work, wore a sling to keep it immobilized, but was able to do household activities as pain would tolerate.’’
The State Court Administrative Office appointed Skocelas to handle the case after judges in Grand Rapids District Court disqualified themselves because Kuiper “regularly appeared before our bench’’ while working as an assistant prosecutor, court records show.
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting was assigned to investigate the case. Getting in early February announced the charges against Kuiper, who resigned from the prosecutor’s office after the crash.
He had been at a retirement party at a Grand Rapids restaurant for former Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, who decided not to seek re-election.
About 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 19, police say Kuiper drove the wrong way on a one-way stretch of Union Avenue SE and struck a parked car, injuring Empson.
Empson is suing Kuiper for the crash, saying the impact "catapulted'' him 60 feet backward into the intersection of Union Avenue and Kellogg Street SE, "causing significant physical and mental injuries.''
Getting did not recommend criminal charges against three Grand Rapids police officers involved in the case.
The officers involved are Lt. Matthew Janiskee, Sgt. Thomas Warwick and Officer Adam Ickes. Ickes agreed to a 30-day unpaid suspension; Warwick last week agreed to a demotion and a 160-day unpaid suspension.
A termination review hearing for Janiskee is scheduled for next week.
Janiskee last week filed a federal lawsuit against the city, saying recordings made the night of the crash on what was thought to be an unrecorded line shouldn’t be used against him at the upcoming hearing.