The case of three Honolulu police officers facing possible criminal charges for allegedly fleeing the scene of a critical accident following a high-speed pursuit renewed calls for federal oversight of the department.
The trio of District 8 patrol officers are the subject of criminal and administrative investigations after they allegedly chased a vehicle carrying a 14-year-old boy and five others who were partying at Maili Beach Park, according to police and attorney Eric A. Seitz, who is representing the boy’s family. The 14-year-old boy remains paralyzed from the neck down, intubated and unable to speak, and the driver of the car is on life support, said Seitz.
Seitz, who has practiced law for 52 years, sent a letter dated July 6 to Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division, requesting federal oversight of HPD management and operations by obtaining a consent decree or other form of federal relief.
Following the crash and alleged HPD cover-up, Seitz reached out to acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Judith A. Philips Friday to ask for an inquiry.
“In Honolulu we have a police department that is literally corrupt and lawless. They are killing people. I think the feds need to step in immediately,” said Seitz in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “The Justice Department has all kinds of opportunities, because they provide federal funding, to provide oversight and demand accountability.”
Interim Honolulu Police Chief Rade K. Vanic did not respond to a Star-Advertiser request for an interview about Seitz’s request for a federal probe or the allegations against the three officers involved in Sunday’s crash. Officials with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers also did not reply to a request for comment or questions about whether the officers sought union assistance with the incident.
The FBI’s Honolulu field office declined comment. Philips’ office and the DOJ’s Washington, D.C., public affairs office did not reply to Star-Advertiser questions about what, if anything, came of the request outlined in Seitz’s letter.
In his letter to DOJ, Seitz cited the federal imprisonment of former Chief Louis M. Kealoha and investigations into allegations of the misappropriation of federal pandemic relief funds and overtime abuses that contributed to the abrupt resignation of former Chief Susan Ballard.
“In addition to increased uses of force, the Honolulu Police Department has been seriously understaffed and mired in controversies involving corruption and poor performances of even the most routine law enforcement tasks,” wrote Seitz.
“In my professional and personal opinions, there is at least as much need and urgency to assert forms of oversight regarding the Honolulu Police Department at this juncture in our history,” read the letter. “I believe that public opinion in Honolulu overwhelmingly has expressed concerns about the willingness and ability of the department and current city and county leadership to confront and find solutions for the problems we have been experiencing here. In part, my belief that federal intervention and oversight is necessary stems from the overt and highly unprincipled acts and statements of local politicians and leaders that continue to support the police and refuse to hold them meaningfully accountable.”
In the case of the Makaha car crash, Seitz said his client was partying with friends early Sunday morning at Maili Beach Park when police officers arrived to break up the gathering.
The people with whom the 14-year-old went to the beach left without him, Seitz said, so the boy jumped into another vehicle after convincing its driver to give him a ride.
The senior police officer who responded to the scene knew the driver of the second car and allegedly had a dispute with him, Seitz said.
A high-speed chase on Farrington Highway ensued, and officers allegedly forced the the car off the road and then fled the scene of the crash, which destroyed a concrete wall and scattered debris and passengers over a residential property.
After a witness called 911, the officers returned to the scene and and started to ask victims and witnesses what happened. They were told, “What you mean? You should know,” according to Seitz.
The 14-year-old was paralyzed from the neck down, intubated and unable to speak, and the driver of the car is currently on life support, according to Seitz.
“Cops chased them, ran them off the road, and then the cops took off. The police seem to be enough concerned that nobody has come out and made some sort of halfhearted defense of the police. There really is no defense,” said Seitz in the interview with the Star-Advertiser “The senior (police) officer knew the driver, and they had a feud. This was not a mistake. This was deliberate. It just sounds horrendous.”
HPD has opened criminal and administrative investigations into the “actions that preceded the collision in Makaha,” according to police.
“These are very serious allegations and criminal investigations have been initiated to see if laws or department policies were violated,” Vanic said in a statement provided to the Star-Advertiser.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Professional Standards Office at 723-3375, Vanic said. The three officers have been served with Restriction of Police Authority orders while under investigation. Two of the officers have three years of service, and the third has 15 years of service. All are assigned to District 8 (Kapolei) patrol, according to police.
“HPD’s Professional Standards Office is investigating this matter. Once their investigation is finished we will review it, determine whether more investigation is necessary, and ultimately determine whether charges are warranted,” said Matthew S. Dvonch, special counsel to Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm, in a statement to the Star-Advertiser.
The official police description of the event posted on HPD’s website describes the incident as a “single-vehicle crash” at about 3:51 a.m. Sunday and does not make mention of a high-speed pursuit of suspects allegedly violating park closure rules and other laws.
“Unit 1, traveling westbound on Farrington Highway at a high rate of speed, attempted to make a right turn onto Orange Street. Unit 1 lost control, veered right of the roadway, strikes the concrete curb, and travels through an open lot. Unit 1 continued traveling through a fenced property, collided with trees, and continued over the concrete wall of the adjacent property where it came to rest,” reads the police report of the incident. “The five male occupants of Unit 1 were ejected from the vehicle. As a result of the collision, the Unit 1 operator and one of the rear passengers were transported to an area hospital in critical condition. The remaining three passengers were also transported to an area hospital, but in serious condition.”
Police said it is “unknown if drugs or alcohol were also contributing factors.”
According to Honolulu Emergency Medical Services, paramedics responded at 3:47 a.m. to a report of a motor vehicle crash with six patients at 84-1092 Farrington Highway.
EMS said the westbound vehicle was driving at an “unknown rate of speed … veered to the right and somehow lost control, causing (the) car to roll over and land on its side” in the yard of a home.
Although six people were injured, one of them had left the scene before ambulances arrived, the EMS report said. Four people were ejected from the vehicle.
Three ambulance crews responded, treated the injured and took them to a hospital. The sixth injured person called 911 about 50 minutes later and was taken to a hospital, EMS said.
Five injured males ranged in age from 14 to 18. A man in his 30s also was injured, according to EMS.