A Honolulu police officer facing charges for domestic violence and criminal property damage is among the defendants whose trials are delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ofc. Michael Rourke’s case is one of several domestic abuse cases involving Honolulu police officers referred to the prosecuting attorney’s office in 2019, although only four were accepted for prosecution.
Rourke, 34, was arrested last September following a July 2019 incident with a 42-year-old woman in which he allegedly shoved her by the neck and destroyed her cellphone, according to the police report.
The woman told police Rourke later “manipulated and harassed” her to the point that she was hospitalized for three days with acute stress disorder, a condition brought on by trauma.
“In the past, Michael has threatened to make cases against me, and threaten (sic) that he would ruin me,” the woman, whose name is redacted, said in a written statement to police.
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu declined to discuss Rourke’s case but said in a statement that an administrative investigation into his conduct is continuing.
“Officers who wear the HPD badge are expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct at all times,” she said. “All allegations involving domestic violence are fully investigated. Possible disciplinary action ranges up to and includes termination.”
Rourke pleaded not guilty in September. In February, a judge dismissed the case because the prosecutor, Emlyn Higa, wasn’t prepared to go to trial, court records show. Higa said he was sick that day.
In February, the prosecuting attorney’s office refiled the charges against Rourke, and he pleaded not guilty again in April. A trial scheduled for July was postponed because of coronavirus-related courtroom closures. It was then slated for September, but all jury trials have been pushed back again because of high COVID-19 case counts.
“Just like every other criminal defendant, he is presumed innocent unless and until the government proves that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said his attorney, Megan Kau, who is also running for prosecuting attorney.
The complainant in this case alleges that in July 2019, he pushed her into the headboard of a bed, causing bruising, and threw her phone at her. A few months later, he took her phone again, threatened her and harassed her, she said.
Nine cases of Honolulu officers accused of domestic abuse were referred to the prosecuting attorney’s office in 2019, according to HPD. Four were accepted for prosecution, Yu said.
Two cases went to trial. One was dismissed and the other resulted in a not guilty verdict. The other two are pending cases, according to Yu.
This year, HPD referred one case to the Attorney General’s Office, but it was declined, Yu said.
“Police use power and dominance as tools in their work life and it can become a part of their identity,” said Nanci Kreidman, chief executive officer of the Domestic Violence Action Center. “Power and control are the central, foundational features of abuse.”
Civil Beat requested an interview with HPD to discuss how the department handles cases of domestic violence in its ranks. Instead, Yu pointed to HPD’s policy which states when officers are arrested for domestic violence, they are immediately stripped of their police powers, including their service weapon.
Rourke is now working desk duty in the IT division, Yu said.
Last year, Chief Susan Ballard announced a new “resiliency training” program to help officers get a handle on their mental and emotional states. The announcement came after a number of officers were arrested on abuse charges.
But the curriculum isn’t really about domestic violence. Extensive and meaningful domestic violence training should be required for all officers on a periodic basis, according to Kreidman.
“This is community crime that does not discriminate, impacts us all, costs us all a great deal, and we must take it seriously and see it as a priority for the wellbeing of our community,” Kreidman said. “We need the police to say those words, believe those words and act according to that language.”
Many other police departments are the first to share the news when their own officers end up in handcuffs, but that’s not the case at the Honolulu Police Department. HPD never announced the arrest of Rourke, who has been on the force for seven years. It took six weeks for the department to share the police report after Civil Beat requested it.
HPD is required to provide basic details about officer misconduct to the Legislature. Although names are not listed and the information is often vague, the reports show one domestic violence case in 2019, two in 2018, none in 2017, seven in 2016 and 10 in 2015.
State lawmakers recently passed a law that would require public disclosure of detailed police misconduct records. The bill is waiting for Gov. David Ige’s signature.
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