High court ruling could take away legal protections for off-duty officers working private events

Updated: Aug. 23, 2017 at 7:56 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that police officers working off-duty jobs at private events may not qualify for a key, legal protection.

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 -- 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," says 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," a legal protection afforded to police acting to protect the public.

"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 says the ruling puts officers on notice that they could also lose the taxpayer funded legal protection when working special duty jobs for private companies.

Legal experts say if Chung assisted Bracken when he was taken down and prevented his injuries, he would have been covered.

"In my view his police duties are triggered," says Eric Seitz. "You can't stand by as a police officer and see somebody beaten up, you have to intervene."

Hawaii News Now did contact the Honolulu Police Department, a spokesperson for the City, and the police union, to see if this ruling affects the special duty policy, but those calls were not returned.

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