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Two Honolulu police officers who were drinking in Kings Sports Bar with their colleague Anson Kimura the night he accidentally shot their bartender will have to represent themselves in an upcoming lawsuit.
The Honolulu Police Commission denied using taxpayer money to cover the legal fees of officers Sterling Naki and Joshua Omoso. Both are defendants in a lawsuit filed by Hyun Ju Park, who was shot in the stomach with a .38-caliber revolver, and her attorney, Eric Seitz.
The commission followed the advice of the city’s Department of Corporation Counsel, which argued in a contested case hearing Wednesday that neither Naki or Omoso were acting in their official capacity as police officers when the shooting occurred.
The Honolulu Police Commission has a say over whether officers can get taxpayer-funded legal counsel in criminal and civil cases.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“Each officer was off-duty, not in uniform and drinking in a local bar,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Ernest Nomura said. “How one can stretch that into performing their duties as an officer defies logic.”
Under state law, whenever police officers are named as defendants in civil or criminal cases they must have their legal fees paid by taxpayers if what they are accused of doing occurred during the performance of their duties as a police officer.
But for years the commission appears to have been misapplying the law by holding officers to a stricter standard of review. The commission recently approved a change in its own rules to loosen that standard and more closely follow what is spelled out in state law.
But even following the new standards, Naki and Omoso didn’t make the cut.
Richard Wurdeman, the attorney who represented the two officers in Wednesday’s hearing, argued that the allegations in the complaint say that Naki and Omoso had a duty as police officers to prevent Kimura from shooting Park.
Wurdeman also pointed out that Seitz’s own legal theory in the lawsuit is that Kimura’s actions, and the Honolulu Police Department’s alleged attempt to cover it up, were part of a longstanding “brother culture of silence” within HPD that allows bad behavior to proliferate.
“When the gun is pulled and is putting somebody in a dangerous situation,” Wurdeman said, “I gather from his (Seitz’s) assertions that they (Naki and Omoso) now have a duty as police officers to do something about it.”
Wurdeman also said Naki and Omoso don’t have the money to defend themselves.
The other defendants in the case include Kimura and the city.
Naki is a veteran of the National Guard with less than 10 years of experience in the department, and is responsible for the care of two special needs children, Wurdeman said.
Omoso has about seven years of experience in HPD and four children.
“They have been trying to hold on without any legal representation in a pro se capacity as the case moves forward,” Wurdeman said. “As the commission probably realizes in these types of lawsuits, hiring their own counsel can put the officer in a tremendous financial burden.”
According to the report, three officers — presumed to be Kimura, Naki and Omoso based on the descriptions — were all recommended for discharge while eight others were suspended for failing to properly investigate and supervise the investigation into the shooting.
The report said all the officers except for Kimura, who retired, had appealed the discipline. Naki and Omoso were reinstated after arbitration, according to HPD.
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