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Honolulu police officers charged after alleged crash coverup

Casey Harlow / HPR

Honolulu prosecutors on Thursday filed charges against four police officers alleging a cover-up in connection with a high-speed car chase that they say resulted in a crash and a traumatic brain injury to the driver of another car.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said the charges are the result of an exhaustive investigation and review of the evidence.

“These charges demonstrate that it is important to seek justice even when those believed to have committed crimes are the very people we expect to uphold the law,” Alm said in a statement.

Prosecutors charged Officer Joshua Nahulu with a felony, saying he drove a vehicle involved in a collision resulting in serious bodily injury and failed to stop at the scene. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The prosecutor's office charged Officers Erik Smith, Jake Bartolome and Robert Lewis each with one felony count for hindering prosecution and another felony count for conspiracy. The first charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, the second by up to one year.

Rick Sing, an attorney for Nahulu, declined to comment. Court records did not list attorneys for the other defendants.

The police officer's union, the State of Hawaiʻi Organization of Police Officers, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Court documents allege the events occurred in the early hours of Sept. 12, 2021. The four officers were dispatched to respond to a noise complaint at a Waiʻanae beach park at 3:30 a.m. when they saw a white Honda exit the parking lot to Farrington Highway.

A civil lawsuit filed against the city and several officers last year by Jonaven Perkins-Sinapati and representatives of his passengers alleges Nahulu, Smith and Bartolome separately chased the Honda at high speeds using two marked Honolulu Police Department vehicles and one vehicle subsidized by police.

The lawsuit alleges the officers never commanded Perkins-Sinapati to stop during their pursuit nor did they turn on their blue lights and sirens. The lawsuit says the chase continued until the Honda “left the roadway and crashed, causing serious, life-threatening injuries.”

Nahulu, Smith and Bartolome drove past the crash scene without stopping and the trio then met with Lewis at nearby Waiʻanae Intermediate School, prosecutors allege in court documents.

From the school, Smith, Bartolome and Lewis were dispatched to the crash site. But when they arrived, they claimed to have no prior knowledge of what led to the collision, the charging documents say.

The lawsuit filed seeks unspecified damages. The case is pending in Circuit Court in Honolulu.

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