HPD agrees to toughen
alcohol-related policies

The deal is to settle a suit by the
family of a teen killed in a crash

The Honolulu Police Department is promising to do more to ensure officers with alcohol problems get help, under a settlement reached with the family of 19-year-old Dana Ambrose.

Ambrose was killed Oct. 7, 2000, when off-duty officer Clyde Arakawa ran a red light at Pali Highway and School Street after a night of drinking and crashed into her car, pinning her inside.

Her parents, Rod and Susan Ambrose, sued the city in U.S. District Court two years later, contending it was negligent for failing to treat or discipline Arakawa despite his history of alcohol problems. The suit also alleged Arakawa received special treatment by police after the crash.

Arakawa, who was about to retire after 25 years in the department, was convicted of reckless manslaughter in February 2002. The Hawaii Paroling Authority ordered him to spend at least 18 years of the maximum 20 in prison before he can seek parole.

In a Jan. 2 letter to the Ambroses, the department agreed to negotiate with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers to beef up procedures in identifying officers with alcohol problems and providing counseling, psychological evaluation and other assistance.

The department and the union are looking at making it mandatory for officers who are identified as having an alcohol problem to submit to counseling and rehabilitation before they can return to work, Police Chief Lee Donohue said.

The current contract addresses only drug abuse by officers.

Rod Ambrose, who spoke by telephone from California, said he is pleased the chief and his department are aware that their policies, procedures and practices don't always work.

"Had they worked prior to 2000, Dana Ambrose might still be alive today," he said.

Susan Ambrose, also in California, said she hopes the settlement opens the door for the community and the department to resolve similar issues in the future.

The settlement does not involve any money, but the case was never about money, said attorney Eric Seitz, who represented the family in the suit. The suit was about preventing a recurrence of what happened and improving the way the department fulfills its responsibilities, he said.

"Nothing will make Dana's death worthwhile," Seitz said. "But if her death can do some good for those of us who have been touched by these events, then hopefully we've accomplished something."

There is no admission of liability by police in this case and no guarantee the department will live up to its commitment.

Teneri Maafala, SHOPO president, said the union is open to improving the department's policies and procedures about use of alcohol by officers.

"Our heart goes out to Dana's family," he said. "Unfortunately, these things happen, and the public needs to realize we're humans before police officers and we do make mistakes."


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