NANAKULI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu prosecutor's office is reopening the case of a police officer caught on video hitting a man multiple times with a baton during an arrest last year.
Authorities initially declined to pursue charges against the 10-year Honolulu Police Department veteran, but now staff members are reviewing the case.
The video was shot by two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration volunteers at a Nanakuli beach in September 2014.
They had put up signs warning people to stay away from an endangered monk seal on the sand, but the footage shows Jamie Rice kneeling just a few feet away from the animal. He can be seen chanting and throwing sand into the air.
Police officer Ming Wang ordered him to move away from the seal. Rice can be heard telling the officer that the animal is sick. They talk for a couple of minutes before the seal moves away and Rice walks off.
The video appears to show the suspect picking up his belongings before Wang shoots him with pepper spray and then hits him multiple times with a baton until he drops to the ground.
Former police officer and criminal justice instructor Aaron Hunger said it's difficult to completely assess what happened without hearing the dialogue between the two.
"It does raise some questions if it doesn't seem the suspect is offering the type of resistance that we would normally expect to see with the amount of force that's being used by the officer," said Hunger.
Top sources at HPD acknowledged the video looks bad, but they also said the steps taken by the officer are in line with training guidelines. They said police are taught to start with pepper spray then use the baton to strike the thigh to take down a suspect resisting arrest.
"It may appear excessive at times, but it has to do also with the type of arrest that's being effected. It's both a federal and state crime," said Tommy Aiu, Hawaii News Now's law enforcement expert. "It appears that the officer used his training in the proper way, deploying use of force according to the use of force continuum and did not exceed the use of force."
Rice was taken into custody for allegedly harassing a monk seal and resisting arrest. He signed a waiver of prosecution for broken bones in his hand. Court minutes indicated that he suffered from a mental illness. He ended up pleading no contest to obstructing a government operation. His criminal history includes two prior convictions for promoting a detrimental drug.
HPD officials said the administrative investigation into the arrest is still ongoing. Wang is on full duty.
Wang pleaded guilty in 2010 to assault and harassment. A judge granted his request to defer his guilty pleas and the charges were dismissed after a year.