A Honolulu police officer is being sued over an incident in which he detained a 15-year-old who was allegedly being bullied by the officer’s son at school.
The boy and his parents, Jorge and Jennifer Rivera, are suing the City and County of Honolulu, Officer Kirk Uemura and others in federal court with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and attorneys Eric Seitz and Terry Revere, the parties announced on Monday.
The case highlights the fact that the Honolulu Police Department has no policy prohibiting officers from engaging in cases in which they have a conflict of interest.
“Unfortunately, the circumstances that gave rise to this complaint are not a one-off,” ACLU Executive Director Josh Wisch said at a press conference Monday. “They are just the latest example of a pattern and practice by HPD that regularly condones misuse of police powers.”
The lawsuit alleges that Uemura’s son had spread rumors about the plaintiff, identified in the suit as J.R., about J.R.’s alleged involvement with his girlfriend. The boys were later allegedly engaged in a physical fight in which Uemura’s son was the aggressor and J.R. was injured, according to the lawsuit.
Uemura detained J.R. the day after the fight, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit:
On Nov. 9, 2018, Uemura was driving his HPD patrol car and followed the school bus carrying J.R. to Kalaheo High School in Kailua. When the bus arrived at school, Uemura “forcibly seized J.R., and subjected him to an unlawful search, detention, and harassing interrogation in plain view of surrounding students and staff.”
The officer said that the boy was being arrested because he had harassed his son.
Uemura summoned another HPD officer, Steven Kaolulo, to arrest J.R. While in transit to the Kailua Police Station, Kaolulo told J.R. he “did not know why” the boy had been arrested.
At the station, J.R. was “left shackled and handcuffed in a cell.” The officers did not notify J.R.’s parents of his arrest until after he was fingerprinted and photographed and his arrest was processed. HPD policy requires the department to contact the parents before a juvenile apprehension on school property.
Earlier that morning, Uemura had gone to the Kailua Police Station while on duty and provided a written statement to another officer alleging that J.R. had criminally harassed his son.
The lawsuit alleges that Uemura “knowingly and maliciously” provided false information in an official report, which is against department policy. The officer who received the complaint ignored the conflict of interest involved with Uemura filing a report in which his own son was the victim, the lawsuit says.
Also named in the case is Sgt. Artie Kendall, who was in charge of the Kailua Police Station and who the lawsuit accuses of condoning Uemura’s conduct.
In a statement, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the officers involved faced consequences, although she didn’t specify what they were.
“An administrative investigation was initiated shortly after the incident occurred, and disciplinary action was taken for both officers earlier this year,” she said. “Corporal Uemura is assigned to District 4 (Windward Oahu) Patrol and has 21 years of service. Sergeant Artie Kendall retired this summer with 27 years of service. His last assignment was in District 4.”
Yu noted that officers and civilian employees are expected to abide by the department’s standards of conduct while on and off duty.
“Violations of the standards is subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination,” she said.
The ACLU lawsuit argues that Uemura’s actions are part of an accepted practice of officers abusing their power, citing retired police chief Louis Kealoha as a prime example.
“What happened to the Rivera family is exactly what happened to the victims of the Kealoha scandal,” said ACLU attorney Wookie Kim. “The type of abuse of power – of misusing police powers to pursue personal, financial and other goals – that is what we are challenging. And that is what we are trying to hold the city accountable for.”
Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy prosecutor, were convicted last year of a series of federal crimes stemming from allegations they framed a family member for the theft of their mailbox using a secret unit of police officers trained to fight organized crime and terrorism.
The Kealohas have also pleaded guilty to other felony charges related to bank fraud and a separate drug case involving Katherine Kealoha’s younger brother.
Ofc. Darren Cachola, who was caught on surveillance video attacking his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant and subsequently accused of other acts of domestic violence, was also cited in Monday’s lawsuit.
Officers did not arrest Cachola after the 2014 incident in Waipahu and, according to the lawsuit, interfered on his behalf again in 2017 when he was accused of strangling his ex-wife. Cachola was originally terminated from HPD, but has since returned to work after the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers fought to have him reinstated.
The last time the ACLU of Hawaii filed a civil rights lawsuit against HPD arising from allegations of officer misconduct was in 2000. In that case, an officer was accused of arresting, handcuffing and partially strip-searching a 12-year-old girl who had been accused of stealing $20 from a classmate.
Wisch said police accountability is a priority for the ACLU of Hawaii now more than it has been in part due to recent statements made by Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard in response to nationwide calls for reform.
Ballard has downplayed the need to address officer use of force, implicit bias and racial disparities in policing as “mainland” problems despite data showing spikes in the number of people killed by HPD officers and uneven enforcement targeting Native Hawaiians, Blacks and other Pacific Islanders, including Micronesians.
The scandals involving Kealoha and Cachola only add to the need for more scrutiny, according to Wisch.
“This type of abuse of power, this type of misuse of police authority is really a practice of HPD,” Wisch said. “This is definitely part of a larger problem, and something that we’re going to be looking into a lot in the coming months and years.”
The ACLU teamed up with attorneys Seitz and Revere to take on HPD.
Seitz is one of the most prominent lawyers in Hawaii when it comes to suing the department for wrongful death, excessive use of force and abuse of power. Among his clients are Gerard Puana, the man the Kealohas were accused of framing with the help of dozens of HPD officers. Seitz said the fact that Louis Kealoha is on his way to prison on federal corruption charges proves that HPD is among the most corrupt police departments in the country.
But he said he doesn’t think a lawsuit alone will force the reform he says is necessary.
“This is not a benign organization,” Seitz said. “Until and unless people in the community express outrage about this police department and this police chief and the unwillingness to hold them accountable things are not going to change.”
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