FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Joshua Wisch, 808.522.5903 & 808.542.4089
OAHU FAMILY WHOSE 15-YEAR-OLD SON WAS IMPROPERLY TARGETED AND ARRESTED BY HPD OFFICER WILL BE PAID $150,000 SETTLEMENT BY CITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU
Honolulu, Hawai‘i: On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, The Honolulu City Council approved a settlement with the family of a high-school student who was improperly targeted and arrested by a Honolulu Police Department (“HPD”) officer a day after the officer’s son bullied and fought the student in November 2018.
The family—represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i (“ACLU of Hawai‘i”), the Law Office of Eric A. Seitz, and Revere & Associates, LLLC—had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in October 2020 alleging that the officer, who had a clear conflict of interest, unconstitutionally abused his powers to retaliate against and terrorize the student, who at the time was 15 years old.
The lawsuit alleged that, the morning after learning about the fight, the HPD officer maliciously filed a false and misleading police report alleging that the student had engaged in criminal harassment against his son. The officer then trailed the student’s school bus to campus, and—in full view of teachers and other students—forcibly seized and arrested the student. Without reading the student his Miranda rights or notifying his parents of his arrest, the officer, with the help of another HPD officer, then took the student to the police station, shackled him by his hands and feet, and put him into a locked cell.
The lawsuit also alleged that the HPD sergeant in charge expressly condoned the officer’s unconstitutional acts. Finally, the lawsuit alleged that the City and County of Honolulu (“City”) and HPD were liable both for failing to have policies that would detect and manage conflicts of interest and for permitting officers’ selective enforcement of the law in situations involving personal matters. The family’s lawsuit requested, among other things, a court order requiring HPD to enact policies, procedures, and trainings to address conflicts of interest in law enforcement.
As part of the settlement, the family will receive $150,000. During settlement talks, the family’s attorneys sought a commitment from the City to adopt policies and trainings to prevent abuses of power involving conflicts of interest from recurring, but the City refused to consider policy change, and even rejected making a “good-faith effort” to change its policies. The family’s attorneys also sought an apology letter addressed to the son, who remains traumatized by the incident, but the City also denied this request.
Plaintiff and parent Jenna Rivera said: “We are extremely disappointed that the City outright refused even to consider changing its policies or writing our son an apology letter. What my son had to endure at the hands of the HPD was extremely traumatic and, to this day, he believes that everything that happened to him was his fault. We wanted to ensure that no other families suffer the way we had to. But without policy change, HPD officers can continue with business as usual, and that’s scary to us.”
Attorney Eric Seitz said: “While neither the officers nor the City admitted liability, the six-figure settlement is an indirect signal of just how wrong the abuse of power was here—and is significant for that reason. We hope that the relevant City stakeholders take the further step of implementing policies and procedures to address the culture of impunity within HPD that allowed this abuse to happen.”
During negotiations, the family’s attorneys also asked the City to reveal the disciplinary actions taken against the officers involved. The City refused to share that information. However, the family’s attorneys independently determined, by analyzing HPD’s 2020 legislative disciplinary report, that the officer who targeted the family’s son received only a 1-day suspension, which the officer is currently appealing.
Attorney Terry Revere said: “This case is a shocking illustration of just how broken the police disciplinary process is. As part of achieving accountability, the family wanted to know what disciplinary action was taken against the officers involved, but it required our independent investigation to find that out. And that investigation revealed that the officer received only a slap on the wrist.”
The City’s approval of the family’s settlement coincides with the ongoing work that the ACLU of Hawaiʻi has been doing to address police misconduct in Hawaiʻi. On March 17, 2021, the ACLU of Hawaiʻi hosted a community-led webinar encouraging community members to file police disciplinary complaints. To that end, the ACLU of Hawaiʻi also released a community guide on “How To Report Police Misconduct in Hawaiʻi.”
ACLU of Hawai‘i Legal Director Wookie Kim said: “What the family had to go through was absolutely horrific, but unfortunately their experience is not unique. Since the filing of the family’s lawsuit, the ACLU of Hawaiʻi has received many tips about other egregious examples of police abusing their power. It’s important that community members continue to speak up and speak out against police misconduct because it’s only by doing so that we can disrupt and de-normalize the unacceptable status quo.”
The ACLU of Hawaiʻi is seeking information to better understand the scope of the policing problem in Hawaiʻi. You can share your police misconduct story here: https://action.aclu.org/legal-intake/hi-share-your-police-misconduct-story.
The Law Office of Eric A. Seitz: As a “lawyer for the people” with over 50 years dedicated to protecting the civil rights of our community, our law office has and will continue to fight injustices whenever and wherever they arise.
Revere & Associates is a limited liability law corporation that believes in the pursuit of justice.
The mission of the Hawai‘i affiliate of the ACLU is to protect the civil liberties contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide. The ACLU is funded primarily through private donations and offers its services at no cost to the public. The ACLU does not accept any government funds.