A year after Stephen Dinnan was killed during a struggle with police in Waimanalo, his family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
Police were trying to question the 35-year-old father of three about a stolen truck last June when he was violently taken down. The lawsuit filed on Friday alleged that the arresting officer beat him and allowed an off-duty firefighter to choke him out.
"I think this is a tragic situation where Mr. Dinnan died at the hands of some overzealous men who got out of hand," said attorney Peter Hsieh.
"It's basically taking the law into your own hands."
The lawsuit was filed by a team of lawyers including Michael Green and Myles Breiner, who represent Dinnan's family.
Shardeah Serhant, Dinnan's girlfriend and mother of two of his children, said she hopes the suit will get to the bottom of Dinnan's death.
"We need answers to what has happened and we need justice to be served," she said.
The lawsuit is based on an account by an eyewitness who was at the Waimanalo house.
The suit said the arresting officer, Eric Matsumoto, delivered the fatal blow.
"Matsumoto put a knee on Dinnan's back between the shoulder blades. He pushed so hard he ended up killing him," Hsieh said.
An internal investigation is pending and Matsumoto has been assigned desk duties.
The Honolulu Medical Examiner initially said that Dinnan did not look like he was assaulted but later ruled his death a homicide.
The M.E. found that Dinnan choked to death and suffered severe neck injuries and abrasions and bruises around his body.
According to Hsieh, police didn't have probable cause to arrest or detain Dinnan, who had nothing to do with the theft and has no criminal record.
Dinnan does not live at the home where the stolen truck was found. He was only visiting after he went shopping at Ala Moana Center with his family, the suit said.
According to the suit, Serhant's truck that was being worked on at the Waimanalo home. Dinnan smoked several marijuana joints with friends at the home when Matsumoto and the truck owner pulled up.
According to the witness, the officer tried to question Dinnan, who then tried to leave the scene. After a brief chase, Dinnan was pinned against a railing by Matsumoto and was hit by the officer, the suit said.
The owner of the truck -- off-duty firefighter Nolan Hanohano -- then began to choke Dinnan, before Dinnan briefly escaped, the suit said.
Dinnan was then pinned down by Matsumoto and kneed him in the back, rendering him unconscious, the suit said.
"Mr. Hanohano was very, very angry when he strangled Mr. Dinnan. He said 'this is what you get when you steal from Hawaiians,'" Hsieh said.
Former Attorney General Mark Bennett, who represents Hanohano, could not be reached. Police declined comment on the lawsuit.
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