PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
10/18/2021   

For Information:
Ryan Leong, 808.392.7455
rleong@acluhawaii.org

ACLU OF HAWAI‘I DEMANDS RELIEF FROM HPD AND DOE AFTER THEY HANDCUFFED AND ARRESTED A 10-YEAR-OLD BLACK STUDENT AND FALSELY IMPRISONED HER MOTHER

The ACLU of Hawai‘i joins Caballero Law LLLC in advocating on behalf of Tamara Taylor and her daughter, N.B., both of whose constitutional rights were violated at Honowai Elementary School in January 2020.

Honolulu, Hawai‘i: On Monday, October 18, 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i (“ACLU of Hawai‘i”) and Caballero Law LLLC sent a demand letter to the Honolulu Police Department (“HPD”) and the State of Hawai‘i Department of Education (“DOE”) on behalf of Tamara Taylor and her daughter, N.B.

The letter describes an incident in January 2020 in which HPD and DOE officials detained and falsely arrested both Ms. Taylor and N.B. at Honowai Elementary in response to a run-of-the-mill, non-physical dispute between schoolchildren.

On the morning of January 10, 2020, a parent complained to school officials about a sketch N.B. and other students had drawn in response to another student bullying N.B. The parent unreasonably insisted that school officials call the police.

After arriving on school grounds, police interrogated 10-year-old N.B., handcuffed her with excessive force, arrested her without probable cause, and transported her to the police station—all without letting N.B. see or speak with her mother. The police and school officials took these traumatizing actions despite the fact that N.B. was cooperative and did not pose any danger to any person or herself—and without accommodating N.B.’s disability, which was documented with the school.

That same morning, school officials called Ms. Taylor to the premises. After her arrival, however, the police and school officials detained her in another room, away from N.B. They refused to let Ms. Taylor see her daughter or fully inform her of the underlying situation, despite Ms. Taylor’s repeated requests. After they finally released her from the room, Ms. Taylor learned, to her horror, that the police were taking her daughter to the police station. By the time N.B. was finally released to her mother at the police precinct, she was hungry, exhausted, and had been in the school or HPD’s custody for over four hours.

The demand letter sent today asserts that the callous actions of HPD officers and DOE staff that day constituted false arrest and imprisonment in violation of Ms. Taylor’s and N.B.’s right to be free from unreasonable seizures and excessive force under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 7 of the Hawaiʻi Constitution. These actions also constituted gross negligence and violated Ms. Taylor and N.B.’s liberty interest to custody and companionship with each other.

In addition, as a Black mother and daughter, the extreme, disproportionate actions taken by school staff and HPD officers in response to a minor schoolyard dispute suggest that Ms. Taylor and N.B. were singled out and discriminated against on account of their race. The school staff and HPD thus also violated N.B. and Ms. Taylor’s equal protection rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, N.B.’s rights were violated as a child with a disability, protected by Title II of the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

As a result of the school staff and police actions, Ms. Taylor and N.B. have been gravely harmed, and both continue to suffer from the trauma of the incident to this day.

Ms. Taylor said: “Although I was at Honowai Elementary, I was not told that my daughter was removed from the premises, handcuffed in front of staff and her peers, placed into a squad car and taken away. I was stripped of my rights as a parent and my daughter was stripped of her right to protection and representation as a minor. There was no understanding of diversity, African-American culture and the history of police involvement with African-American youth. My daughter and I are traumatized from these events and I’m disheartened to know that this day will live with my daughter forever.”

In sending the letter, Ms. Taylor and her daughter hope to prevent similar abuses from recurring by demanding changes to both DOE and HPD policies involving school police presence and interactions with children. Specifically, the letter demands that—

DOE adopt policies:

    • Forbidding staff to call the police on a student unless the student presents an imminent threat of significant harm to someone;
    • Generally allowing parents or legal guardians access to their children while on school property;
    • Requiring that a parent or legal guardian be present whenever a minor student is being interrogated or questioned about potentially criminal behavior; and
    • Requiring consultation with a school counselor before calling the police, unless there is an emergency situation

And HPD adopt policies:

  • Requiring that a parent or legal guardian be present whenever a minor is interrogated by an officer;
  • Forbidding officers to arrest students in school property unless the student is an imminent threat of significant harm to someone;
  • Forbidding officers from entering school property absent an imminent threat of significant harm to someone; and
  • Requiring that officers issue citations in lieu of arrest for misdemeanors allegedly committed by minors in school property

Mateo Caballero of Caballero Law LLLC said: “What happened to Ms. Taylor and her daughter that day is outrageous, but sadly too common and entirely preventable. HPD and DOE had no reason to detain Ms. Taylor and arrest her daughter. That they felt empowered to treat a Black mother and her 10-year-old daughter with no regard for their civil rights and liberties should be troubling to all of us.”

ACLU of Hawai‘i Legal Director Wookie Kim said: “DOE and HPD must do more to reduce police presence in schools, which only contributes to a less-inclusive school climate. Instead, the school community should use less-punitive approaches to addressing school-based disputes. That means DOE should be turning to its counselors, nurses, school psychologists, and social workers first—and not to police.”

ACLU of Hawai‘i Executive Director Joshua Wisch said: “This isn’t the first time we’ve challenged police misconduct against students on DOE campuses. It isn’t even the first time this year. We settled a lawsuit in March against HPD based on its misconduct at a local school. Based on these lawsuits–and other abuses of which we’ve been made aware–there is a clear pattern of misconduct by HPD that must end.”

A copy of the demand letter is attached.

The mission of the ACLU of Hawaiʻi is to protect the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the U.S. and State Constitutions. The ACLU of Hawaiʻi fulfills this through legislative, litigation, and public education programs statewide. The ACLU of Hawaiʻi is a non-partisan and private non-profit organization that provides its services at no cost to the public and does not accept government funds. The ACLU of Hawaiʻi has been serving Hawaiʻi for over 50 years.