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ACLU Sues Honolulu Police Department Over Police Misconduct, Lack of Transparency

The Honolulu Police Department headquarters
Casey Harlow/HPR
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A federal lawsuit against the city and Honolulu Police Department alleges an officer arrested a 15-year-old at school after the boy was in a fight with the officer’s son. The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii says the case illustrates how some officers abuse their positions while the disciplinary actions taken by the police department are shrouded in secrecy. 

The ACLU’s suit charged that Officer Kirk Uemura did not read the child his Miranda rights or notify his parents when Uemura made the arrest in 2018, a violation of the department's policy when handling juveniles. ACLU said the boy was handcuffed, put in shackles and detained in a locked cell.

The family filed a complaint with the Honolulu Police Commission two years ago and HPD said the department sustained the misconduct case in June and took corrective action.

However, ACLU attorney Wookie Kim said it’s unclear what that means.

“We don't know what corrective action was taken. We don't know who that action was taken against. And we don't know when, if at all, such action actually occurred,” he said.

“This lack of transparency is troubling, not least because it concerns government employees who have a state enforced monopoly on the use of violence, and who can so easily upend the lives of ordinary citizens. We need transparency in the police disciplinary process to restore trust, accountability and legitimacy to police departments.”

HPD also does not have a conflict of interest policy prohibiting officers from investigating people with whom they have relationships.

Uemura is still an officer with HPD, and currently assigned to patrol the Windward area.

A second officer who assisted Uemura with the student's arrest, Sgt. Artie Kendall, retired over the summer.

An HPD spokesperson said officers are expected to abide by standards of conduct. She said Uemura was disciplined earlier this year, but could not confirm what action was taken.

Uemura could not be reached for comment. But Uemura's Instagram page contains posts that feature profanity, promotes racist content and celebrates violence.

The content includes a racist meme about Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and a transphobic image of Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fiona Fox. HPR confirmed the Instagram account as Uemura's, matching it to a HPD Facebook page.

HPD pointed HPR to the department’s social media policy that states “employees are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech and/or language do not violate any laws, statutes, the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, and departmental policies, including the Standards of Conduct, as applicable.”

Eric A. Seitz, Revere & Associates joined the ACLU in bringing the lawsuit. The last time the ACLU sued HPD was over 20 years ago.

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