An Oahu grand jury could take up the case of a Honolulu police officer repeatedly beating a man with his baton — an act caught on video, the prosecutor’s office said.
Deputy prosecutors initially declined to pursue charges against the officer, Ming Wang, a 10-year veteran of the department.
But Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has ordered his staff to review the case further. Spokesman Dave Koga said that could include presenting the case to a grand jury.
The video was shot Sept. 11, 2014, by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration volunteers Barbara and Robert Billand, who had put up warning signs to keep people away from a monk seal on a Nanakuli beach.
They told police Jamie Kalani Rice, 41, ignored the signs and was harassing the endangered animal.
The Billands recorded the video and submitted it to help prosecute Rice. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser in recent weeks received a copy of the video, which shows Rice kneeling next to the seal.
It then shows officer Wang approach Rice and take out his baton and pepper spray. Wang follows Rice when Rice walks away, shoots him with pepper spray and hits Rice multiple times with the baton until Rice goes down to the ground.
“The officer did what he had to do,” Barbara Billand said. “The guy was a big man and the officer was alone. The guy wouldn’t listen. We didn’t know what he was going to do.”
Wang arrested Rice for allegedly harassing a monk seal and resisting arrest, but prosecutors charged Rice only with harassing the seal. A grand jury later indicted Rice on the charge, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Wang said in his police report that Rice refused his orders to step away from the seal. When Rice started to walk away, he said, he told Rice that he was under arrest and ordered him to stop at least six times but that Rice kept walking.
He said he shot pepper spray into Rice’s face twice, but that it had no effect. He said he then hit Rice five times in the right thigh with his baton after Rice ignored his command to get on the ground.
Wang said he shot pepper spray into Rice’s face two more times, and hit him in the left thigh four times and the right thigh one more time. He said he stopped hitting Rice after Rice was face down on the ground.
He said he then pushed his boot into the left side of Rice’s body to make sure he was no longer resisting.
Wang asked for an ambulance to treat Rice for exposure to pepper spray. A city emergency medical technician treated Rice at the scene.
Another officer transported Rice to the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, where Rice refused treatment for injuries to his hands.
Police took Rice to the Honolulu Police Department’s Kapolei Station, where they determined that he was not under the influence of alcohol. Rice waived his right to a lawyer and gave police a statement.
While still in police custody he also signed a waiver of prosecution for the injuries he suffered during his arrest. Police later transported Rice to the Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu in Ewa Beach, where he was treated for broken bones in his right hand.
HPD says it initiated administrative and criminal assault investigations against Wang, and as standard procedure for officer-involved incidents, forwarded the criminal investigation to prosecutors for review. HPD also reassigned Wang to desk duty while the investigations were pending.
The department said it completed its administrative investigation but cannot comment on it because such investigations are confidential unless they result in employee termination.
The prosecutor’s office declined to pursue charges against Wang in June. The deputy who reviewed the case said he recommended against prosecuting Wang because the video did not record whatever Wang and Rice said to one another and that Rice had signed a waiver of prosecution.
Wang is on full patrol duty but is no longer assigned to Leeward Oahu, according to HPD.
Wang, 44, pleaded guilty in 2009 to misdemeanor assault and petty misdemeanor harassment. A state judge granted his request to defer his guilty pleas and, after a year, dismissed the charges. He was originally charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse instead of assault. The change from domestic abuse to assault allowed Wang to keep his job as a police officer and to own firearms.
Rice, meanwhile, was unable to post $15,000 bail to get out of custody while his criminal case was pending. During his time in custody, the court ordered him to undergo two mental examinations and sent him to the Hawaii State Hospital for three months for mental health treatment.
He accepted a lesser charge last month in a plea deal with the prosecutor. In exchange for his no contest plea to obstructing a government operation, a misdemeanor, the prosecutor promised to recommend a sentence equal to the amount of time he had already spent in custody.
Rice’s lawyer, Iokona Baker, asked acting Circuit Judge Paul B.K. Wong to impose a five-day jail term.
Before Wong accepted the plea, he asked Rice a litany of standard questions to see whether he understood all of the legal ramifications of forgoing a trial and whether he made the choice freely.
Rice told Wong that his mind was clear and that he takes medication to treat his paranoid schizophrenia.
He said he believed the seal was sick and never meant harm or ill will toward it or anyone else.
Rice told police he chanted and shared his mana, or energy, by rubbing sand on himself and tossing the sand into the air, to heal the seal.
“Mr. Rice is very familiar with this particular seal,” Baker said. “He’s from the area. Mr. Rice is of Hawaiian ancestry.”
Rice repeatedly told Wong that the reason he accepted the plea deal was to get out of jail as soon as possible.
“I’m done with jail, I’m sick and tired of it. I’m just looking at this time served. That’s all I’m looking at, judge. I tired, I like go home,” Rice said.
He has two prior convictions for petty misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Wong accepted Rice’s plea, sentenced him to five days in jail and credited him with having already completed the sentence.