The charges come 18 months after the alleged pursuit and accident.

Four Honolulu police officers were charged with felonies Thursday for their alleged role in a 2021 pursuit in Makaha that resulted in injuries to six people.

With their pursuit lights off, the officers allegedly chased a car that then crashed, after which they fled the scene only to return claiming they had no knowledge of the events.

Officer Joshua Nahulu faces the most serious allegation: “collisions involving death or serious bodily injury” — essentially a hit-and-run — a class B felony with a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Officers Jake Bartolome, Erik Smith and Robert Lewis were charged with “hindering prosecution in the first degree,” a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and conspiracy to do so, a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year jail sentence.

Richard Sing, a lawyer representing Nahulu, declined to comment Thursday.

Makaha Crash
The crash allegedly occurred after a high-speed police chase at the corner of Farrington Highway and Orange Street. (Hawaii News Now)

Bartolome, Smith and Nahulu have already requested legal representation in a number of civil suits that were brought against them, which the Honolulu Police Commission granted.

“Now that the prosecutor’s office has filed criminal charges, if any of these officers want representation now for their criminal charges, they’re going to have to ask the Commission again,” commission chair Doug Chin wrote in an email.

“If they ask, we will schedule a meeting and the commissioners can take into account any new information, including anything available from the prosecutor’s investigation, before they vote again,” he said.

The police department removed the police powers of three of the officers after the crash and will restrict the fourth officer’s powers, Honolulu Police Acting Chief Keith Horikawa said in a statement Thursday.

Horikawa did not identify the fourth officer.

“These charges demonstrate that it is important to seek justice even when those believed to have committed crimes are the very people we expect to uphold the law,” Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said in a press release.

Hawaii News Now obtained footage from a witness at the scene showing police investigating the crash in Makaha in 2021. (Hawaii News Now)

Eric Seitz, who is representing Dayten Gouveia — then a 14-year-old passenger who was paralyzed from the neck down in the accident — in a civil case, thinks the charges were late and too little.

“You might want to raise some question about why it took them 18 months to charge anybody,” Seitz said. “I think they didn’t want to charge them at all.”

The prosecutor’s charges also appeared less severe, focusing on the traumatic brain injury driver Jonaven Perkins-Sinapati sustained in the crash despite there being multiple victims, Seitz said.

“Their offenses are only against the one person,” he said. “Any civilian in this case would have been charged with attempted murder or attempted manslaughter. These are very minor charges that will probably result in them being put on probation.”

Seitz added that the officers have been working for the past 18 months, receiving full salaries. “This is just a whitewash,” he said.

He said he hopes that federal prosecutors bring civil rights charges.

‘Unannounced Pursuit’

The four officers responded to a noise complaint at Maili Beach Park around 3:30 a.m. Sep. 12, 2021, according to a press release from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Perkins-Sinapati and five other people then drove off in a white 2000 Honda Civic. Perkins-Sinapati’s attorney, Michael Green, would later tell Civil Beat that Nahulu had a “vendetta” against him.

Nahulu, Smith and Bartolome took off up Farrington Highway in an “unannounced pursuit” of the car, the charging document states.

Passengers in the car later told Civil Beat that the police kept their blue lights off, one police Toyota 4Runner hit them, then the officers drove off.

Nahulu was closest when the Honda crashed, the charging document states.

“We felt this bump and I looked at my uncle and he tried to correct the wheel,” then-20-year-old Justus Sinapati Mason, Perkins-Sinapati’s nephew in the passenger seat, told Civil Beat. “And then we felt an extra push and my uncle couldn’t control the vehicle. We were kind of drifting and hit a ditch. That’s when we spun out.”

The Honda hit a curb, then trees, and went over a concrete wall. Five of the six passengers were ejected. Perkins-Sinapati, then 35, went into a vegetative state. Gouveia was paralyzed from the waist down. Three others were brought to the hospital in serious condition, one with a fractured arm and ribs and another with a fractured spine and ribs.

Dayten Gouveia was paralyzed from the waist down following the crash in 2021 (Hawaii News Now)

Three officers, Nahulu, Smith and Bartolome, allegedly drove past and regrouped with Lewis in the driveway of Waianae Intermediate School, the charging document states.

They were then dispatched to the scene of the crash.

When Bartolome, Smith and Lewis arrived, they allegedly switched on their body-worn cameras and “comported” themselves as if they “had no prior knowledge of the facts that gave rise to the collision,” the charging document states. Bartolome and Smith filed accident reports without explaining what led to the crash “despite the fact that” they were “present when the collision occurred.”

Lewis, the prosecutor alleges, learned in the school driveway what preceded the crash and left it out of his report.

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