Feds target Big Island police officer in beating death investigation

The altercation happened during a traffic stop in Honokaa.

Feds target Big Island police officer in beating death investigation

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has learned that federal prosecutors have identified a Big Island officer as a target of their criminal investigation into the death of Mountain View resident Vincent Burton.

In court filings, the Federal Public Defenders Office said the U.S. Attorney’s Office has issued a target letter to Luke Watkins, a 13-year veteran of the Hawaii County Police Department and a two-time officer of the month.

Watkins has asked the Public Defender’s Office to represent him.

Prosecutors didn’t say what charges they’re seeking. But the victim’s attorney said the investigation may be targeting other officers.

“We’re relieved to see that the case is moving forward. We were concerned from outset that the Big Island police [internal investigation] was compromised,” said attorney Myles Breiner, who represents Burton’s family.

Burton, a 57-year-old construction worker, died in May after he scuffled with police.

The altercation happened during a traffic stop in Honokaa.

Police said Burton was being arrested on suspicion of DUI when he pushed the officer and they both fell. A police spokesman said both men suffered minor injuries.

But Breiner said Burton’s death certificate indicated that he suffered severe trauma, including rib injuries and multiple organ failures.

“We can tell you from the photographs and the hospital reports that one officer couldn’t have perpetrated the type of injuries that Mr. Burton experienced," Breiner said. “He was literally beaten to death.”

Hawaii County Police said they are cooperating with the federal investigation. They said Watkins and other officers involved in the arrest remain on the job.

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