The Honolulu Police Department told the Honolulu Police Commission Wednesday that the arrest of a 10-year-old Black girl with a disability — handcuffed in school and taken to a police station in response to an offensive drawing — was seen by officers as “reasonable and necessary.”

The case garnered national attention after attorney Mateo Caballero and the ACLU of Hawaii sent a letter to HPD and the Department of Education demanding reforms and $500,000 in damages to the girl and her mother.

“The HPD is committed to its even-handed, unbiased, and fair application of its policies and procedures in dealing with and responding to credible threats involving school violence,” Deputy Police Chief Ryan Nishibun told the commission. “In light of all the events that have occurred on the mainland and here in Hawaii, and based on the facts, the HPD believes its officers took action that they believed was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances given the nature of the threat.”

HPD responded to a demand letter from the ACLU regarding the arrest of a 10-year-old Black girl with a disability. Jacob Geanous/Civil Beat/2021

Nishibun said that the girl’s race was not a factor. “It is unfortunate that the races of the adults and minors involved in this case have been made issues,” he said. “The HPD responds to all calls for law enforcement services made by Hawaii schools and parents regardless of race or other protected classifications.”

He added, “the Honolulu Police Department is working with the relevant stakeholders, officers, and investigators, including the department of the Corporation Counsel, in connection with the response to the ACLU of Hawaii and Mateo Caballero’s demand letter.”

Nishibun’s statement comes after Caballero and the ACLU sent the demand letter on October 18 alleging that the girl, identified only as “N.B.,” was handcuffed with “excessive force,” falsely imprisoned and discriminated against because she is Black due to a dispute regarding an offensive drawing in January 2020.

The letter calls for the expungement of all records related to N.B.’s arrest and demands that $500,000 in damages be paid to the girl and her mother, Tamara Taylor, “for the harm and suffering” caused by DOE staff and HPD Officers.

A lawsuit has not yet been filed and Caballero is giving the city until November 8 to respond.

According to the demand letter, Taylor got a call from staff at Honowai Elementary on Jan. 10, 2020 regarding an incident involving her daughter and another student.

When Taylor arrived at the school, an officer told her that the parent of another student insisted police be called in response to the incident, although the officer never explained the incident in question, the letter said.

While Taylor spoke to school staff members and the officers, her daughter was allegedly in another room with police and DOE staff.

Taylor did not know her daughter was in the other room until she heard a school staff member say, “We have to let (N.B.) out of the room soon. She says she is cold and lonely,” according to the letter.

School employees then allegedly told Taylor that the parent of another student insisted the school call police and barred her from leaving.

Two officers then allegedly told Taylor to follow them to the Pearl City police station and she was told her daughter would be suspended from school for two days.

Once Taylor arrived at the police department, her daughter was released after being held in custody for a total of four hours, according to the demand letter.

“I was stripped of my right as a parent and my daughter was stripped of her right of protection and representation as a minor,” Taylor wrote. “There was no understanding of diversity, African American culture and the presence of police involvement with the African-American youth. My daughter and I are traumatized from these events and sure that there is no future for us at Honowai Elementary.”

Following the incident, Taylor filled out paperwork for her daughter to transfer to a new school.

On Wednesday, Nishibun said that the HPD investigated the case after Taylor made a complaint to the police department on May 7, 2020 against the three officers who responded to the school. In that complaint, which is cited in the demand letter, she said she had not been informed of the charges against her daughter and that there was a lack of probable cause for her arrest. She also complained about being denied access to her daughter while officers “interrogated” her without her mother’s consent.

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