By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 25-year-old Mountain View is suing the county and three police officers for a beating he alleges he received in the Hilo police cellblock after being arrested for drunken driving.
Honolulu attorney Joseph Rosenbaum filed the lawsuit on Friday on behalf of John Tredre. The suit names Hilo Patrol Sgt. Darryel Tolentino and Officers Keith Nacis and Crystal Kekela, and seeks unspecified damages for alleged excessive force, abuse of authority, assault and battery and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
A Feb. 20 letter to Tredre from Hawaii Police Chief Harry Kubojiri stated that the police Administrative Review Board found cause to uphold a portion of a misconduct complaint against Tolentino and that the chief agreed with the panel’s findings. Neither Nacis nor Kekela was disciplined.
“The officer has received appropriate discipline. Section 92F-14 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes prohibits the police department from disclosing the disciplinary action taken,” Kubojiri wrote. The letter didn’t state what evidence the review panel used in its investigation but the cellblock is equipped with video surveillance cameras.
“More than anything, they (Tredre and his mother, Kimberly Thomley) want for this not to happen to somebody else,” Rosenbaum said Tuesday. “… They want to know what the discipline was for the officer.”
The suit alleges that after Tredre was arrested on May 30, 2012, his 24th birthday, he called his mother to bail him out of jail, and that officers laughed at him when she told him she couldn’t. The complaint said that Tredre was upset and frustrated and “swore at the officers.” After that happened, two officers, later identified as Tolentino and Nacis, entered the room Tredre was in. The suit claims that Nacis removed Tredre’s handcuffs, and Tolentino grabbed Tredre’s ponytail and threw him to the ground, yelled “Don’t f-in disrespect my officers,” kicked him in the side and slapped him to the back of the head. According to the complaint, Tredre was also stripped to his underwear and forced to spend the night half-naked in a holding cell. The suit accuses Nacis and Kekela of failing to prevent the alleged abuse.
The suit claims Tredre had surgery for medulloblastoma, a brain cancer, at age 3, and that the slap to the head caused trauma to the area that resulted in uncontrollable vomiting by Tredre during a court appearance the following day. Tredre admits to having drunk seven beers, but believes the trauma was due to the slap.
Rosenbaum said that Tredre has suffered “emotional distress” and has been “living in fear” since the incident. He said that while monetary awards are up to a jury, he believes fair monetary compensation “would be in the six figures.”
Thomley said that her son, who was not working when the incident occurred, is now working as a cook, and hasn’t taken a drink since the incident. She that he’s “doing good, but he’s angry.”
Tredre told the Tribune-Herald in March he believes force was used against him “because I’m a skinny haole” and Rosenbaum said he believes his client’s civil rights have been violated.
Thomley said that more than financial compensation, she and her son want disclosure in his case and others involving alleged police misconduct.
“I want to know what’s going on; I want to uncover the silence behind police misconduct,” she said. “I’m hoping for justice.”
“I was raised on Kapiolani Street,” Thomley continued. “When I was two or maybe three, I remember watching the police work directing Hilo High School traffic. … The police have been my heroes all of my life. This thing has been a terrible blow to me and my sensitivity toward justice and what’s fair.”
Only nine other states besides Hawaii bar public access to police misconduct records. In Hawaii, the nature of the misconduct only becomes public if an officer is fired, and then only after a lengthy grievance process. Rosenbaum said he believes it’s “due to the strength of the union” — the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, or SHOPO.
“I think it’s due to their lobbying at the state legislature. They get a free pass,” he said. “They don’t have to disclose exactly what’s going on in terms of what sort of reprimand or what sort of discipline, and they don’t have to say what happened. They don’t even have to disclose anything.
“When everything is in the dark, how does it give them any impetus to rectify situations and let the public know that they’re acting according to the power that we, the public, are giving them as the police? Their power comes from us, so why are they allowed to hide from the public when they’re dealing with misconduct?”
Kubojiri told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday that he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on its contents.