The Honolulu Police Department says it will not make any of the reforms outlined in a demand letter sent by the lawyers representing a girl who was handcuffed and arrested for sketching a threatening drawing in school.
In a letter from Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic dated Monday but released on social media on Tuesday, Vanic provided more details to support why HPD officers arrested the girl, identified only as N.B., on Jan. 10, 2020 at Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu.
Attorney Mateo Caballero and the ACLU say the girl was handcuffed with “excessive force,” falsely imprisoned, and discriminated against because she is Black due to a dispute over an “offensive drawing.”
But Vanic made clear HPD has a different perspective on the incident.
“To be clear, the ‘drawing’ was a graphic drawing of a girl holding and pointing a gun with a severed head at her feet,” Vanic said. “Your client also wrote a clear message addressed to two classmates by name, using foul language: ‘Stand down B**ch! Yo F**kin days are over NOW’ and ‘Fake to me And DED.'”
Vanic also said that it was “extremely misleading” for the attorneys to characterize the drawing as an “offensive sketch of a student.”
“A threat to shoot and kill another student is, and must be considered to be, ‘a threat of significant harm to someone,’ which you acknowledge is something officers could arrest a student for on school property,” Vanic said. “Thus, the arrest of your client on school property is consistent with your own assessment of the situation.”
Vanic also admonished the ACLU and Caballero for claiming the HPD response was racially motivated. Instead, Vanic wrote that the arrest was dictated by multiple factors including the severity of the offense and risk assessment.
“It is NOT motivated by race,” the response says. “It is very unfortunate that you and your clients have injected race in this matter. The incident and the response were not racially motivated. The HPD does not and will not respond to 911 calls for law enforcement intervention and service base on race.”
Last month, Caballero sent a letter to HPD demanding the HPD adopt policies requiring a parent or legal guardian to be present whenever a child is interrogated by an officer, forbidding officers from arresting students in school unless the student is an “imminent threat of significant harm to someone,” and requiring officers to issue citations instead of arrests for misdemeanors committed by children on school property. It also called for the city and state to expunge all records related to N.B.’s arrest and pay $500,00 in damages to the child and her mother, Tamara Taylor.
He gave HPD until Monday to respond.
But Vanic said HPD will not change any of the four policies outlined in the demand letter.
Vanic said the choice to have a parent present at the time of a custodial interrogation is the “right of the minor and not the parent.” He added that N.B. was never questioned or interrogated by HPD officers.
“Under these circumstances, the requested policy change is perplexing as a custodial interrogation or questioning did not occur so as to support such a policy change,” Vanic wrote.
Requiring that no officer should be on school property unless there is an imminent threat of significant harm is “unreasonable and unworkable,” he said.
“Waiting until situations are at the level of ‘imminent threat of significant harm’ is tantamount to waiting for a small fire to envelop a whole building before calling the fire department,” Vanic wrote. “What could have been put out with a garden hose may now require multiple fire trucks.”
Issuing citations in lieu of arrests for misdemeanors on school property would “significantly impair officers from taking necessary, appropriate, and reasonable measures to ensure the safety of all student s and faculty on school campuses,” he said.
HPD’s version of events at the elementary school is much different than details laid out by Matteo and the girl’s mother, Tamara Taylor. They had earlier described a situation that was exacerbated by another parent and handled badly by school employees.
The content of the drawing was never described until Vanic put it in his response letter, although a deputy chief defended HPD’s actions at a Honolulu Police Commission meeting last week.
Mateo Caballero and the ACLU did not respond to Civil Beat’s requests for an interview regarding Vanic’s letter.
UPDATE: Tuesday night, Caballero and the ACLU responded with a comment calling HPD’s response “disturbing and dangerous.”
“Parents of young children should be alarmed by the far-reaching powers HPD claims over their keiki,” the statement said. “HPD claims the right to interrogate children without their parents present under the pretense of ‘protecting the constitutional rights of minors,’ implying it’s the duty of a 10-year-old girl to assert her own constitutional rights. Yet at the same time, HPD argues that questioning a 10-year-old girl in a room she’s not free to leave doesn’t constitute interrogation…And HPD justifies arresting a 10-year-old Black girl comparing her to ‘a small fire’ that needs to be put out before spinning out of control. These assertions by HPD in its response are grotesque.”
The statement went on to say that N.B. drew “constantly as a way to cope with her ADHD and bullying, which the school knew.”
“N.B. had no disciplinary record involving harming other students, was not violent, did not have weapons, and complied with the school and police that day,” the lawyers wrote. “She did not have the means to injure other students and did not pose a threat or danger to anyone. If the school had complied with disability law, they would have called counselors instead of HPD, and we would not have seen a child handcuffed and taken away in front of her peers.”
The lawyers also said that HPD left something “critical” out of its response.
“N.B. was not the only student who contributed to the drawing, and she did not want it turned over to the other student,” they wrote. “Also, N.B. the only Black child involved, was singled out. None of the other students involved were even questioned, let alone handcuffed. If the threat was sufficiently serious to cause real fear of harm, all of the students involved would have received the same treatment.”
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.