Big Isle law enforcement sued for use of force
Three residents claim they were sprayed and charged for challenging an officer's conduct
HILO » Three Big Island residents have filed suit against two county prosecutors and an officer who is the son of Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna, saying the residents were sprayed with a chemical and charged with crimes when they protested excessive force.
The suit was filed by Matthew Martin, his girlfriend, Rhonda Morris, and Morris' son Jonathan Olivar, all of whom were sprayed by police at the Riverside Apartments on Oct. 22, 2004. The type of spray was not identified, but police generally use a pepper-based spray.
The suit alleges that officer Mahuna sprayed Martin and Morris, and an unidentified officer sprayed Olivar, who was 16 at the time.
Besides Mahuna and other unidentified officers, the suit names Hawaii County Prosecutor Jay Kimura and Deputy Prosecutor Sandra Freitas as defendants.
The prosecutors violated the plaintiffs' right to speak against police wrongdoing and right to due process by filing charges against Martin and Morris in retaliation for their complaints about the police, the suit says.
In trials that followed, a jury found Martin not guilty of resisting arrest, and a different jury found Morris not guilty of hindering prosecution, documents show.
The events began with Martin offering to help officer Wendall Carter, who was alone and attempting to restrain a combative 16-year-old girl, the suit says. Carter said he didn't need help.
The girl then started to complain that Carter was kneeling on her head. There is conflicting testimony about whether that was true, but Martin apparently believed it, because he told Carter he was going to file a complaint against him.
Other officers arrived, including Mahuna, who sprayed Martin "point blank," the suit says. When Morris and Olivar asked why Martin was being arrested, Mahuna sprayed Morris and another officer sprayed Olivar, the suit says.
At one point, Mahuna told onlookers, "My father is chief. My name is officer Mahuna. I can do anything I like," a document says.
Chief Mahuna declined to comment on the allegations against his son. The suit also alleges that the officers were not properly trained, to which Chief Mahuna responded, "We train them as well as possible, as far as use of force sufficient and reasonable to take individuals into custody."
Strauss said he would show that police and prosecutors have a regular practice of arresting witnesses and victims who criticize police.
The officers and prosecutors would normally be represented by an attorney from the county Corporation Counsel's Office. But head attorney Lincoln Ashida said his office hadn't received the case yet, so he wasn't certain who would represent them.
He said related accusations of excessive force had been brought before the Police Commission, which declared the accusations "not sustained," meaning there was not enough evidence to prove police wrongdoing.