Police misconduct suit heads to federal court


By JOHN BURNETT

Tribune-Herald staff writer

A lawsuit alleging police used excessive force against a 25-year-old Mountain View man in the Hilo cellblock after a drunken driving arrest has been moved to federal court in Honolulu.

The civil suit by John Tredre against the county and three police officers — Sgt. Darryel Tolentino and Officers Keith Nacis and Crystal Kekela — was filed Aug. 4 in Hilo Circuit Court. It was moved on Oct. 18 to U.S. District Court in Honolulu at the request of the county, according to Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Udovic.

“It’s our common practice in the county to refer those cases to federal court,” Udovic said. “If it’s a U.S. constitutional issue, or if there’s a federal question involved, it’s not uncommon to have those issues heard in the federal court, since they deal with those issues regularly. The courts are pretty precise in their rulings, and it’s usually a quicker resolution than in state court.”

Udovic said the reason for removal was the allegation of excessive force, which falls under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Joseph Rosenbaum, the Honolulu attorney representing Tredre, said Monday the county’s moving of the case is “not really a surprise.”

“Normally, they remove all these cases to federal court,” Rosenbaum said. “Sometimes we file in federal court; sometimes we file in state courts. I thought that we’d have a decent shot with a jury on the Big Island. But they have a right to remove it, so I’m not surprised.

“… I hope that any jury that hears this case recognizes the merits of it and the damage that was caused.”

The suit alleges that after Tredre was arrested on May 30, 2012 — his 24th birthday — he called his mother to bail him out of jail, and that officers laughed at him when she told him she couldn’t. The complaint said that Tredre was upset and frustrated and “swore at the officers.”

After that happened, two officers, later identified as Tolentino and Nacis, entered the room Tredre was in. The suit claims that Nacis removed Tredre’s handcuffs, and Tolentino grabbed Tredre’s ponytail and threw him to the ground, yelled, “Don’t f-in disrespect my officers,” kicked him in the side and slapped him to the back of the head.

According to the complaint, Tredre also was stripped to his underwear and forced to spend the night half-naked in a holding cell. The suit accuses Nacis and Kekela of failing to prevent the alleged abuse.

A Feb. 20 letter to Tredre from Hawaii Police Chief Harry Kubojiri stated that the police Administrative Review Board found cause to uphold a portion of a misconduct complaint against Tolentino and that the chief agreed with the panel’s findings. Neither Nacis nor Kekela was disciplined.

Asked whether the removal of the case to Oahu would present a hardship to his client, Rosenbaum said it “depends on how far the case goes along.”

“I have clients on other islands and mostly they settle. But if it goes to trial, it’s going to cost him money,” he said.

Rosenbaum added that he hopes the case will be settled at some point.

“The evidence is kind of clear,” he said. “The (review board) found in his favor upon administrative review. That’s a very rare thing … that they find for the complainant. … And the fact that there’s a videotape that I haven’t seen yet. … I would hope that it would settle. It’s just a matter of numbers.”

Udovic said the county is “just beginning our investigation” and hasn’t “come to any decisions” on the merits of the county’s and the officers’ case.

If the case goes to trial, it will be heard by U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi. A scheduling conference is set for Dec. 6 before Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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