Two policeIn many respects, Jesse Nozawa and Brian Punzal were alike.
Jesse Nozawa and Brian
Punzal had received awards
By Debra Barayuga
Both served the Honolulu Police Department honorably for seven years, earning numerous commendations, awards and praise from their superiors.
Their files are replete with unsolicited letters and high ratings on performance evaluations commenting on their professionalism, outstanding work ethics, love for police work, sound judgment and compassion.
So the two were viewed by their colleagues as the least likely to have been involved in the beating of a prisoner in August 1995.
Despite their outstanding records, U.S. District Judge Alan C. Kay yesterday sentenced Nozawa to 24 months and Brian Punzal to six months incarceration.
Kay said there needs to be punishment to deter police officers from engaging in similar conduct and the officers' actions eroded public confidence in law enforcement.
The officer's attorneys call the incident "aberrations" in their otherwise stellar careers as police officers and said the community suffers a tremendous loss.
Particularly with the problems at the Pearl City station where other civil rights violations have arisen, "(officer Punzal) was thought to be the most proactive to addressing those kinds of problems," said Howard Luke, Punzal's attorney.
According to Assistant Chief Rafael Fajardo, Punzal "always took the lead in providing in-service training to his co-workers regarding civil rights and prisoner rights. He was the very person who assisted when he noticed officers becoming agitated with prisoners."
At his sentencing, Punzal, choked with emotion, asked forgiveness from Richard Doolin, his family, fellow officers and the community.
Capt. Harry Auld praised Nozawa's conscientiousness and dedication to his job and the community as a beat officer in Kailua.
Lt. Grant Loo commented that Nozawa performed his duties "absent any hint of machismo or bravado," remaining calm and humble.
In a letter addressed to the court, Nozawa said he was "ashamed and humiliated" by his behavior, saying he let the department, the community and his wife and family down.
Nozawa and Punzal were among five police officers indicted in June 1999 for the beating of Doolin at the Honolulu Receiving Desk and the subsequent cover-up. Only one officer remains to be sentenced.
Punzal, 42, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. As acting sergeant, he signed off on a false use-of-force report.
The report attributed Doolin's injuries to falling on a berm in the parking lot.
Punzal had reason to believe that Doolin had been beaten and that an acting lieutenant had harassed other officers in preparing the false report, according to a plea agreement reached with the government.
"Turning away from the obvious was the real downfall of Officer Punzal and if he could, he would take it back," Luke said.
While Punzal had no direct knowledge of how Doolin was hurt, another officer told a federal grand jury that Punzal addressed the watch the next day and anyone who did anything "to step forward and take responsibility," Luke said.
"This is not the statement of a coconspirator."
Nozawa, 31, pleaded guilty to violating Doolin's civil rights. He admitted to "willfully and knowingly striking" Doolin by using unnecessary force in placing his foot down forcefully on the prisoner's buttocks to assist other officers in removing his restraints.
And while Nozawa knew that another officer had been assigned to prepare a false report, he did nothing "affirmatively" to rectify the report once the investigation began, said Michael Barr, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The government did acknowledge that Nozawa's decision to plead guilty and offer to testify for the government was a catalyst in eliciting guilty pleas from Punzal and another codefendant, George DeRamos.
Doolin suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung in the assault. He later received a $317,000 settlement from the city for his claims against the officers.
The police department is in the process of terminating Punzal. The other officers involved in the beating have all left the department.