Lawmakers: $6M discrimination lawsuit against HPD could have been prevented

Lawmakers: $6M discrimination lawsuit against HPD could have been prevented
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu taxpayers are paying almost $6 million to settle a lawsuit against the Honolulu Police Department that lawmakers say could have been prevented.

The lawsuit was filed by three officers who say they faced racial and gender discrimination at the hands of a superior.

The case dates back years.

In 2008, a review board made up of high-ranking police officers recommended that a police lieutenant be suspended for using racial slurs against an African-American officer and a Mexican-American officer.

But the recommendation to suspend the lieutenant was apparently ignored by then-Police Chief Boisse Correra for a year and by his successor, Chief Louis Kealoha.

Lawmakers say had the lieutenant been suspended in 2008 and been removed as the supervisor for those officers, further legal claims of retaliation could have been prevented.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, two years later, a third officer got involved after she reported hearing the same lieutenant make insensitive comments.

She also claimed the lieutenant and others retaliated by withholding her back-up while responding to dangerous calls. She was injured on the job and is permanently disabled.

State Sen. Will Espero, who has been a vocal critic of HPD leadership, said he's appalled by the suit -- and the department's failure to act.

Espero says if Correa or Kealoha had simply taken the review board's recommended action, the lawsuit may not have been filed in the first place.

"It shows major dysfunction within the Honolulu Police Department or at least within its leadership," he said.

University of Hawaii Criminology instructor Aaron Hunger agreed, saying the lawsuit points to bigger systemic issues at the police department.

"Either we fix this, or we're going to continue to pay millions," he said.

The settlement for the three officers was $4.7 million, plus $900,000 for attorney fees because the city's staff lawyers were not allowed to represent the city after being accused of quashing the ARB recommendation.

"That's uncalled for, unheard of," says City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, "There's something wrong here."

Hawaii News Now asked both the city and HPD for comment. The police department declined comment. The city denied any wrongdoing by their attorneys on the case.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.