The four Honolulu police officers face felony criminal trial in December.

A lawyer representing a teenager who was severely injured in a crash after a Honolulu police pursuit in Makaha two years ago has accused top city officials of racketeering and extortion.

Eric Seitz’s argument is that the mayor and law enforcement leaders failed to acknowledge the harm to then-14-year-old Dayten Gouveia and opened a criminal investigation that delayed discovery in his earlier lawsuit in state court.

His latest lawsuit in federal court, filed Monday on the eve of the second anniversary of the crash, also alleges the four officers involved — Joshua Nahulu, Erik Smith, Jake Bartolome and Robert Lewis —violated Gouveia’s constitutional rights and subjected him to “excessive and unreasonable deadly force.”

Seitz also alleges that the city failed to train its officers and enacted a policy that “allows officers too much discretion in deciding to initiate a motor vehicle pursuit.”

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

Gouveia was paralyzed and five other people in the car suffered other injuries after the vehicle was allegedly run off the road by police officers who had chased it on Sept. 12, 2021. The officers allegedly left the scene of the crash, returning only after 911 calls were made.

The four police officers face a felony criminal trial in December.

Nahulu was charged with “collisions involving death or serious bodily injury,” a class B felony with a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Bartolome, Lewis and Smith were charged with “hindering prosecution in the first degree,” a class C felony with a five-year maximum sentence. The three also were charged with a misdemeanor for conspiring to hinder the prosecution. All four pleaded not guilty.

In all, four lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the people who were injured.

Seitz filed a lawsuit in state court against the Honolulu Police Department on Sept. 21, 2021, on behalf of Gouveia. The federal case filed Monday is in addition to that.

Attorney Michael Green sued the city separately, on behalf of Jonaven Perkins-Sinapati, who was also in the car crash. Attorney Michael Stern also sued the city on behalf of the remaining four passengers. In February, the City Council agreed to settle Stern’s suit for $4.5 million.

The latest lawsuit invoked the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was intended to fight organized crime, naming as defendants Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, HPD Deputy Chief Rade Vanic, Chief Joe Logan, Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm and Honolulu Corporation Counsel Dana Viola.

“This racketeering enterprise engaged in extortion by exerting control over” Gouveia and his parents’ state lawsuit, the new filing says. “These public servants committed extortion by threatening to take or withhold action in order to devalue and discredit Plaintiffs’ cause of action.”

The arguments stem from the fact that the initial state case filed by Seitz has not been resolved, while, for example, the city was able to settle Stern’s lawsuit.

Seitz said the city has made no offer to settle his 2021 case.

“They are basically refusing to pay anything and they’re using that as pressure to force us to settle the case for less than what this kid and his family needs to be able to deal with the injuries for the rest of his life,” Seitz said in an interview. “And they’re using their official jobs and capacities to increase that pressure.”

Attorney Eric Seitz speaks to media after Katherine Kealoha sentencing.
Attorney Eric Seitz thinks the City has been slow-walking his lawsuit. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020)

The city’s legal office known as Corporation Counsel has negotiated with Seitz but failed to reach an agreement, according to a statement from the counsel provided by Blangiardi’s spokesman Scott Humber.

The Corporation Counsel “is continuing to litigate this matter in the best interests of the City,” the statement said.

The four police officers are still employed by the department but have had their police powers removed.

The officers were notified of the discipline HPD would take against them, HPD spokesperson Michelle Yu wrote in an email. Yu declined to specify, saying that could “jeopardize the grievance process” through which the officers might now contest their discipline.

Brooks Baehr, a spokesperson for the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s office, declined to comment.

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