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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Final suspect
pleads guilty in HPD
prisoner-beating case

By Debra Barayuga

The last of three Honolulu police officers who were to go to trial this week in U.S. District Court for beating a prisoner five years ago has pleaded guilty.

George DeRamos, acting lieutenant at the Honolulu Central Receiving Desk on Aug. 5, 1995 when arrestee Richard Doolin was beaten, pleaded guilty yesterday on the eve of trial to a felony charge of conspiring to obstruct justice.

Earlier yesterday, officer Brian Punzal, 42, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

Officer Jesse Nozawa, 31, pleaded guilty Monday to a felony charge of conspiracy to violating Doolin's civil rights by using unnecessary force.

DeRamos, 47, faces 24 to 30 months' imprisonment when sentenced Feb. 12 before U.S. District Judge Alan C. Kay.

The government will recommend that he be sentenced to 30 months, said attorney Gerard Hogan, one of three U.S. Department of Justice lawyers prosecuting the case.

DeRamos and Punzal did not participate in the beating, according to evidence the government would have produced at trial.

The government would have shown at trial that DeRamos was on duty the night Doolin was brought in and knew or had reason to believe Doolin was beaten, Hogan said.

DeRamos also helped prepare a false report that indicated Doolin suffered his injuries by falling on a berm in the parking lot.

DeRamos knew or should have known the report was false but signed it anyway, Hogan said. DeRamos also threatened Doolin to intimidate him into not revealing the true cause of his injuries to hospital staff.

According to government filings, Officers Nozawa, A.C. Brown, David Chun and William Duarte were the ones responsible for striking Doolin.

The beating occurred after orders by DeRamos to subordinate officers that they "take care" of a problem arrestee who was being transported from the Pearl City station.

Doolin, a former Halawa prison guard, had been arrested for violating a court order that he stay away from his wife.

Brown pleaded guilty in August and has yet to be sentenced. Chun began serving a 51-month sentence in January. Duarte, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy violations and denied striking Doolin, has yet to begin serving a 12-month sentence.

DeRamos' attorney, federal public defender Michael Weight, could not be reached for comment.

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michael Barr said he hopes the government's prosecution of police officers who violate prisoners' rights and the sentences meted out thus far will deter other officers from following suit.

Punzal's charge involved covering up DeRamos' actions.

Punzal knew or had reason to believe that Doolin had been beaten and that DeRamos harassed other officers in preparing a false use of force report, Barr said. And despite knowing the report was false, he signed off on it.

Punzal's attorney, Howard Luke, said he will ask that his client serve no jail time because he doesn't feel he deserves any.

"Looking at Mr. Punzal as an individual, a police officer and his role in the offense, I believe it would be appropriate without depreciating the seriousness of the offense."

Luke said Punzal did not witness or participate in the beating, Luke said. "Brian Punzal was definitely not hands-on in this matter."

In exchange for DeRamos' and Punzal's guilty pleas, the government has agreed to drop two remaining conspiracy counts of obstructing justice and violating Doolin's civil rights.

Punzal and Nozawa have been on the force for seven years. DeRamos has served 25 years. All three remain free on $10,000 signature bonds while awaiting sentencing.

Doolin suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung in the beating. He later received a $137,000 settlement from the city for his claims against the officers.

Police Chief Lee Donahue was off-island attending a conference and was unavailable for comment.

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