The parents of a 14-year-old boy are suing the Honolulu Police Department after their son was paralyzed in a car crash allegedly caused by a high-speed police pursuit.
Attorney Eric Seitz filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the boy, identified by Hawaii News Now as Dayten Gouveia, and his parents, Ualani and Dennis Gouveia, claiming the teen suffered “catastrophic” injuries after he was ejected from a car run off the road by police Sept. 12 in Makaha.
The chase allegedly began after three officers told a group of people socializing at the beach to disperse. The individuals Gouveia had arrived with had already left the area so the teen got into a car operated by Jonaven Perkins-Sinapati, according to the lawsuit. It claims that police went on to chase the vehicle at high speed, forcing it off the road and causing the crash.
Following the collision, the three officers who were pursuing the car left the scene and did not provide medical assistance to anyone in the car, according to the lawsuit. A short time later, the officers allegedly returned and “acted as if they had no knowledge of what had transpired.”
“They ran the car off the road and then left as if nothing happened,” Seitz said. “And when they heard that there were 911 responses with the ambulances, they came back to the scene and inquired, ‘Oh, what happened?’ and, ‘What’s going on?'”
The three officers, who have not been named, then filed false reports calling the crash a “single car accident,” and failed to make any reference to the chase, according to the lawsuit.
One of the reports, which was published on the HPD website, said that the crash occurred at the intersection of Farrington Highway and Orange Street after the vehicle “lost control, veered right of the roadway, strikes the concrete curb, and travels through an open lot” before colliding into trees and continuing over a concrete wall.
Five of the six people in the car were ejected during the crash, including Gouveia and Perkins-Sinapati.
Gouveia and Perkins-Sinapati were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Three other passengers, who have not been identified, were also taken to the hospital in serious condition. As of Monday, Gouveia was still in the ICU, Seitz said, adding that his client has since showed signs of moving his upper body, but is still paralyzed from the waist down and having trouble breathing.
The lawsuit, which alleges one count of negligence and one count of assault and battery, calls for the city to reimburse Gouveia’s family for legal fees and medical bills. It also calls for the family to be awarded unspecified damages in amounts to be litigated.
Perkins-Sinapati is currently on life support, according to Michael Green, the attorney representing Perkins-Sinapati and four others who were in the car.
“This is like something you see in the movies and you don’t believe it,” Green said. “There are multiple witnesses that watched them run them off the road, then they ran away.”
Green said another passenger in the car appears to be at risk of losing his left eye due to the injuries he sustained in the crash.
HPD said it is now investigating the incident and suspended the three officers involved.
“The department has opened criminal and administrative investigations into what preceded the collision in Makaha,” HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu wrote in an email. “Three officers have had their police powers removed. Two have three years of service and the third has 15 years of service. All are assigned to District 8 (Kapolei) patrol.”
According to Green, one of the officers involved in the police chase had a “long history” with Perkins-Sinapati.
“We’re going to show a relationship between him and the driver that goes back years — the policeman, the driver and his family,” Green said. “There’s been a vendetta going back for years. This particular morning was payback.”
The HPD’s Professional Standards Office is investigating the incident. Afterwards, the case will be handed over to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven Alm.
“Once their investigation is finished we will review it, determine whether more investigation is necessary, and ultimately determine whether charges are warranted,” Matthew Dvonch, special counsel to Alm’s office, said in a statement. “Since this matter is still under active investigation, we won’t be able to comment further on it.”
In July, Seitz called for federal oversight of HPD in a letter to Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Seitz said he did not receive a response to his request, so he reached out to Hawaii U.S. Attorney Judith Phillips on Friday. On Monday, Phillips’ office acknowledged Seitz’ call, but had no comment.
“Up into the 1990s I had occasional cases in which I represented victims of police shootings or other alleged excessive force, but those were relatively infrequent,” Seitz wrote in his letter. “Since approximately 1995, the number of such cases seems to have risen, and since approximately 2010 there has been — for Honolulu — an epidemic of cases involving uses of lethal force resulting in many deaths.”
Seitz wrote that, over his career, he has seen the Justice Department intervene in the operation of Hawaii prisons, juvenile facilities and mental institutions, as well as police departments elsewhere in the U.S.
“In my professional and personal opinions, there is at least as much need and urgency to assert forms of oversight regarding the Honolulu Police Department at this juncture in our history,” he wrote.
Read the lawsuit:
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