A Honolulu couple is suing the city, a police officer and an alleged drunken driver for negligence after a police pursuit preceded a crash in Kakaako that injured them and killed three people.
Lianna McCurdy and Daniel Verderame were among eight people who were struck by a pickup driven by Alins Sumang on Jan. 28.
Sumang was being pursued by Ofc. Sheldon Watts after he had crashed into several parked cars on Amana and Makaloa streets. Sumang tried to make a sudden right turn onto Kamakee Street, court filings show. That’s when he lost control, veered across three lanes and slammed into the pedestrians, a light pole and another pickup.
The crash killed the plaintiffs’ 26-year-old friend, Casimir Pokorny, who was visiting from Pennsylvania, along with Reino Ikeda of Japan and William Lau of Honolulu.
In a civil suit filed in state court Monday, McCurdy and Verderame alleged that Watts violated the Honolulu Police Department’s motor vehicle pursuit policy as he followed Sumang.
“He followed him up and down multiple streets with his light and occasionally chirping his siren,” said Robert Kawamura, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
HPD policy requires officers to turn on their lights and sirens when engaging in an active vehicle pursuit, Kawamura said.
An HPD spokeswoman said Tuesday the department could not comment because it is an ongoing investigation.
The policy also says supervisors should shut down pursuits when they become dangerous, court documents say. This pursuit ended because Watts’ police car was stuck behind a fire truck responding to another emergency on Ala Moana Boulevard, the complaint said
Sumang is facing three counts of manslaughter. At a preliminary hearing, an investigator testified that there was a bottle of vodka in Sumang’s pickup.
Kawamura said he and his clients had preferred to negotiate the matter with the city’s civil attorneys — the Department of the Corporation Counsel — outside of courts.
But Honolulu police refused to provide the incident reports, citing a pending investigation, he said.
“We didn’t want to file suit,” Kawamura said. “We didn’t want to name the officer. My goal would have been to resolve it with the city, but because they didn’t release the report, we had no option.”
Brian Black, executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said the legal exception for pending investigation exists to “keep the target of an investigation from finding about what evidence exists, what the scope of the investigation is and what they’re looking at.”
But once a defendant has access to the police report, those concerns should no longer apply, Black said, and the city Corporation Counsel has to do more to demonstrate how releasing the information could harm the investigation.
“We’re hoping that Corp Counsel will authorize the release of the report which we’re entitled to,” Kawamura said. “And from there, we’ll make our assessment of how much further the case goes.”
The Civil Beat Law Center is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.
Read the complaint here:
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