Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, February 9, 1998

Police won’t be
easy targets of lawsuits

BURGLAR breaks in. Homeowner shoots burglar. Burglar sues homeowner. Insurance company settles with burglar. Argghhh! Nothing is more infuriating than criminals turning around and suing law-abiding citizens.

It's even worse when, in court, the bad guys win. Not fair! What's to stop them from doing whatever they like, since police can't be everywhere, the prisons are overfilled and plaintiffs attorneys have run amok?

SHOPO, for one, is mad as heck and not going to take it anymore. The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers issued a Feb. 2 press release to send this warning to scofflaws: "Go ahead and sue us but, if your claim is frivolous or malicious, we're going to sue you right back."

The first to feel SHOPO's wrath are Andrew Lane and Vanessa Dupree, Bernadette Lewis and Ruby Crawford, who filed a Nov. 26, 1997, lawsuit on behalf of their sons, Andrew Lane Dupree II, Emerson Lewis and Jacob I. Crawford. The complaint was lodged against HPD officers Harry Coelho and Will Cluney.

The lawsuit charged that on Sept. 26, 1996, while performing their duties, the two police assaulted, battered, cursed at and used excessive force against the juveniles. The minors were on their way to eat a fast-food breakfast when the officers pulled over their car on Young Street.

After the incident, the Duprees complained about the HPD in public. Their attorneys told a television news reporter that officers Coelho and Cluney were "bullies in blue."

During Coelho's separate criminal trial -- Cluney was not charged -- the jury heard evidence that young Mr. Dupree wasn't exactly an Eagle Scout. According to SHOPO's release, he had been involved in a physical altercation with another student, had been expelled from private school and was doing poorly in public school.

"Dupree admitted to others that his knee injury was a result of a prior basketball injury and not from this incident," said the release. "Also submitted were statements by others that Dupree was swearing at police, was uncooperative, showed disregard for authority and (was) confrontational."

The evidence was so overwhelmingly in favor of Officer Coelho, that it took the jury 10 minutes to return a "not guilty" verdict. Thus, the charges were rejected -- but Coelho and Cluney are still suffering personally and professionally, according to their union.

They were unable to obtain loans or advance in HPD, were stressed out and had their integrity impugned upon the filing of the lawsuit. Their families were traumatized by the allegations, and humiliated when questioned by others.

And, of course, the black eye inflicted on the HPD and the police profession as a whole is still smarting from that case and others like it, says SHOPO.

THEREFORE, in a precedent-setting move, the police union has appropriated money from its Legal Defense Fund to file a counterclaim in the still-pending civil suit on behalf of Coelho and Cluney. This is the first of an aggressive campaign to counter-sue those filing "malicious" lawsuits against HPD officers, vows SHOPO.

Just think. If all goes well, the future of litigation in Hawaii might look like this: Burglar breaks in. Cop shoots burglar. Burglar sues HPD and loses. HPD sues burglar and his attorney, and wins big counterclaim judgment.

Now that's justice.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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