The city is paying $150,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit which contends that a Honolulu police officer abused his power by wrongfully arresting a 15-year-old boy in November 2018, the day after his son picked a fight with that fellow student.
The city approved the settlement March 17.
“While neither the officers nor the City admitted liability, the six-figure settlement is an indirect signal of just how wrong the abuse of power was here—and is significant for that reason,” said Eric Seitz, whose firm represented the then 15-year-old and his family, along with the ACLU of Hawaii Foundation and Revere Associates.
The officer, Kirk Uemura, is appealing the one-day suspension he received from HPD, which the family’s attorney Terry Revere calls “a slap on the wrist.”
The “officer — motivated solely by a personal vengeance — followed J.R.’s school bus to campus in his patrol car, forcibly seized J.R., and subjected him to an unlawful search, detention and harassing interrogation in plain view of surrounding students and staff,” the complaint says.
Uemura allegedly filed a false police report saying J.R. was engaged in criminal harassment against his son, identified as “A.U.,” the lawsuit says.
However, the complaint says it was the officer’s son who had “bullied and taunted J.R. for several months” at Kalaheo High School, and no action was ever taken against him.
After Uemura arrested the student without reading him his Miranda rights or notifying his parents, he also seized his property and searched his person.
He then enlisted the help of another officer, who took the boy to the Kailua station, where he was handcuffed, shackled, fingerprinted and placed in a cell.
Uemura, when contacted for comment today, said he was unsure what he could say regarding the case and said he would consult his attorney.
Parents Jorge and Jennifer Rivera filed on Oct. 26 the lawsuit, individually and on behalf of their son, against the Honolulu Police Department and the city, Uemura and HPD Sgt. Artie Kendall.
The lawsuit alleges Kendall, condoned Uemura’s abuse of power.
It alleges Uemura abused his authority as a law enforcement officer and violated HPD policies and state administrative rules, including notifying school officials before the arrest of a minor at a public school and violated the teen’s constitutional rights.
The complaint also alleges that according to HPD’s “de facto policy, practice or custom of permitting officers to abuse their law enforcement powers for private interests and/or to aid fellow police officers with private or personal interests, the HPD officer who received the complaint ignored the conflict of interest,” and that practice aided Uemura in making a false and misleading police report.
When the Riveras arrived at the Kailua Police Station and asked why Uemura was allowed to interrogate and arrest their son when there was a blatant conflict of interest, “the sergeant in charge tapped his badge and exclaimed, ‘That’s what gives (Officer Uemura) the right to do what he did.”
The complaint says tensions arose out of “perceived interactions” J.R. had with Uemura’s girlfriend, a student at the school. It culminated Nov. 8, 2018, when A.U. texted J.R., challenging him to a fight.
J.R. sustained several injuries from A.U.’s punches, the complaint says.
The lawsuit alleges the city was indifferent to the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and failed to do its duty to enact affirmative policies or procedures requiring officers identify and document when another officer has a conflict of interest and report it to a superior officer.
During settlement talks, the family’s attorneys sought from the city to adopt policies and trainings to prevent such abuse of power involving conflicts of interest from occurring, but the city failed to do so.
Mother Jennifer (Jenna) Rivera said: “We are extremely disappointed that the City outright refused even to consider changing its policies or writing our son an apology letter. What my son had to endure at the hands of the HPD was extremely traumatic and, to this day, he believes that everything that happened to him was his fault. We wanted to ensure that no other families suffer the way we had to. But without policy change, HPD offices can continue with business as usual, and that’s scary to us.”
“What the family had to go through was absolutely horrific, but unfortunately their experience is not unique, ACLU Legal Director Wookie Kim said. “Since the filing of the family’s lawsuit, the ACLU of Hawaiʻi has received many tips about other egregious examples of police abusing their power. It’s important that community members continue to speak up and speak out against police misconduct because it’s only by doing so that we can disrupt and de-normalize the unacceptable status quo.”