City settles police brutality lawsuit involving special duty officer

City settles police brutality lawsuit involving special duty officer
(Image: Paul Klink)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city has agreed to a financial settlement with a man who was violently detained in a Waikiki bar almost a decade ago – because a Honolulu police officer on special duty assisted security guards who tackled him and eventually choked him unconscious.

The case tested whether officers on special duty – who wear their uniform, badge and gun while working for private companies – had the same protection against lawsuits as when they were on active duty.

The case against the officer was revived when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that police officers working off-duty jobs at private events were not protected by what's known as "qualified immunity," a legal protection afforded to police officers acting in their official capacity.

The immunity law is meant to allow police to take appropriate action to protect the public or themselves without worrying about being sued.

The case centered around Honolulu police officer Kinchung Chung, who was hired to work a New Year's Eve party at the Sheraton Hotel's Rumfire Club in Waikiki in 2009.

Court documents show Chung stopped Dillon Bracken for trespassing -- specifically, for being inside a VIP section without a wristband. That's when hotel security guards took Bracken down.

His friend, Paul Klink, took a picture of Bracken on the ground with someone on top of him and a hand pushing down on Bracken's face.

"Security handled him as quickly and abruptly as they did and ended up causing him serious physical damage," said Klink.

A civil suit was filed against the hotel by Bracken, who went unconscious while being restrained by the security guards.

The court ruled that even though Chung was in his HPD uniform, and was working an HPD-approved event, he was acting on behalf of the hotel when stopping Bracken for trespassing.

Chung was also being paid by the hotel and was therefore no different from the rest of the hotel security staff and should not be allowed to claim qualified immunity protection, the court ruled.

"It blocks them from even having to participate further in a trial," says Jack Schweigert, Bracken's attorney, "It also blocks them from having to pay $1 of damages."

Schweigert said the ruling put officers on notice that they could also lose the taxpayer funded legal protection when working special duty jobs for private companies.

The city and Dillon agreed earlier this month to settle the case. The amount of the settlement will be kept confidential until approved by the Honolulu City Council.

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