Editor’s Note: This is an installment in our occasional series, It’s Your Money, that looks more closely at public expenses that taxpayers may not realize they’re being asked to pay.
A convicted rapist will get a $35,000 check from the city of Honolulu, although he’ll likely be behind bars when it arrives.
On Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council approved a legal settlement with Dewitt Lamar Long for injuries he sustained in 2010 when he was beaten by four cops during a traffic stop.
Long has a lengthy criminal history. According to the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center, he has been convicted of at least 20 crimes, ranging from misdemeanor assault and theft to felony drug charges.
He is currently awaiting sentencing in a case in which he was found guilty of raping a 15-year-old Makaha girl.
At the time of his conviction he was facing another charge for the suspected sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl. Long had apparently been caught in the act by police, according to media reports.
Long’s attorney, Eric Seitz, said his client’s recent arrests and the subsequent news coverage prompted him to settle the case with city attorneys. Seitz also accused the city of prolonging the litigation and bleeding him of legal fees, which he said he could have recovered had the case gone to trial and he won.
“My view of all this was it was horribly mishandled,” Seitz said. “They’re just lucky that I agreed to drop it because if we had gone to trial they would have paid even more.”
The city’s Department of Corporation Counsel did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Long sued the city in March 2011, saying several HPD officers had violated his civil rights by beating him during a traffic stop in downtown Honolulu.
According to federal court records, Long was pulled over in January 2010 as part of a sting operation. During the stop, one of the officers claimed he saw a knife in Long’s vehicle. Guns were drawn.
While removing Long from the vehicle one of the officers dropped his service weapon. Long says he was “violently assaulted,” suffering a black eye, road rash on his face, a busted lip, a sprained wrist and swollen knee. He was taken to the emergency room at Queen’s Medical Center before being booked for carrying a deadly weapon.
One document says Long now has a permanent scar over his right eye and “continues to suffer from headaches, nightmares and flashbacks.”
Prosecutors eventually withdrew the criminal case, records say, because the court had determined in October 2010 that the traffic stop and Long’s arrest were illegal and all the evidence should be thrown out.
HPD Lt. David Yomes, Sgt. Winston Leong and officers Randall Rivera and Scott Nakaone were named as defendants in the lawsuit in addition to the City and County of Honolulu.
For Leong, it was his second civil rights lawsuit in as many years. The first one, which alleged he viciously threw a 13-year-old boy to the ground, resulted in the city paying a $24,500 settlement.
Both Leong and Yomes had also admitted under oath that they had been disciplined by HPD in the past. Nakasone, too, admitted to getting suspended while working at the Los Angeles Police Department several years prior.
The officers’ offenses are wide-ranging, from getting into car accidents and failing to file police reports to arguing with co-workers, drinking in public and making improper arrests, according to court records.
While they all said they were punished for their actions, details about their discipline are as sketchy as their misdeeds. State law doesn’t require that information to be released, and HPD doesn’t volunteer it.
Seitz, who sues HPD frequently, contends police misconduct is a serious issues in Hawaii but that no one has a desire to fix the underlying problems that lead to costly lawsuits and legal settlements.
Just because Long has a sordid past, he said, doesn’t mean the police should be absolved of any wrongdoing.
“As far as I’m concerned, the police don’t police themselves,” Seitz said. “It results in harm and threatens even greater harm to the public.”