Hawaii woman sues City, HPD over conflicts of interest

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — A Hawaii woman filed a federal civil rights complaint against the City and County of Honolulu, several Honolulu Police Department officers, and private citizen Leonard Letoto on Wednesday, June 9, for illegal actions and conflicts of interest involving all parties.

The lawsuit calls on HPD to end its policy of allowing officers with conflicts of interest to abuse their powers.

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According to the plaintiff, Robin Hall ended her employment with Exceptional Obedience, LLC, a dog-training business, in June 2019. While meeting with business owner Letoto to exchange final payment and a company phone, Hall said Letoto terrified and injured her by trying to forcibly enter her residence when he disagreed about the payment.

The complaint alleges that Hall called police without realizing that the responding officer was a close friend and business partner of Letoto. The responding HPD officer, Christopher Koanui, co-owned the dog-training business with Letoto, making him an employer of Hall whom she had never met. The complaint says when Koanui arrived at Hall’s home, he refused to allow her to file a police report. Hall said Koanui wrote a criminal complaint that falsely claimed that she had stolen the work phone, then threatened to arrest her if she tried to report Letoto’s crimes to the police.

Over the following days, Hall said she talked with multiple people at HPD to correct the record but was not successful. The criminal theft charge on her record has been open for nearly two years.

“We need policing, but who oversees officers’ wrongs? Why isn’t someone admitting this situation was improper and then changing the way HPD operates? HPD should be required to implement police training on preventing and managing conflicts of interest, as well as formulating a policy on disciplinary action for violations,” Hall said. “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i (“ACLU of Hawai’i”) is representing Hall in the lawsuit, which claims that Koanui and the other involved officers violated her First Amendment petition rights by preventing her from filing a police report, retaliating by opening a false criminal complaint, falsely arresting her, among other violations.

“What happened to Ms. Hall is deeply alarming. Ms. Hall was an innocent crime victim,” said Wookie Kim, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “When she tried to exercise her First Amendment right to report a crime in progress, she was silenced and retaliated against by an HPD officer because the person who was attacking her was the officer’s close friend and business partner. Making matters worse, other HPD officers—including supervising sergeants—conspired to help frame Ms. Hall. What happened to her almost perfectly mirrors former police chief Kealoha’s abuses. That this cycle of misconduct hasn’t stopped—and continues to harm innocent citizens every day—should trouble our entire community. We filed this lawsuit to stop the cycle.”

The lawsuit alleges that HPD is also responsible for violating Hall’s rights for 1) condoning officers’ abuse of power in matters related to their own affairs 2) failing to enforce a conflict-of-interest policy and 3) refusing to investigate the case after receiving ACLU’s letter.

ACLU Hawaii also says HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic defended Koanui’s actions, who has not received any known disciplinary action as a result of Hall’s false arrest.

“It is amazing that HPD still lacks a conflict-of-interest policy,” said Joshua Wisch, Executive Director of the ACLU Hawaii. “This is despite the ACLU’s recent successful lawsuit against HPD and the City in another police misconduct case. This is despite the Honolulu Police Commission calling for the creation of a conflict-of-interest policy for HPD. This is despite questions raised by the City Auditor about the lack of an HPD conflict of interest policy. And the result of this failure to set appropriate policy is what prompted today’s filing: unaccountable officers violating the constitutional rights of the very people they are sworn to protect with impunity.”

Letoto denies all allegations and says he hasn’t seen any evidence to prove he committed crimes against Hall.

According to Letoto, the work situation wasn’t working out, and they both agreed on the employment separation. After scheduling to meet to exchange the final check and to return the business cellphone, Letoto said Hall requested that he meet her at her home. When he arrived, Letoto said he gave her the check, but she demanded cash instead. She refused to give him back the phone, while still keeping the check. Letoto claims that he then put his foot in the door to keep her from closing it, and he did not try to enter the home.

When police were called to the scene, the responding officer happened to be Letoto’s business partner. Letoto said once Koanui heard his name, he realized there would be a conflict of interest, so another officer was called to take the report.

After the incident, Letoto alleges that they both were given options: Hall could press charges for assault and he could press charges for theft since Hall still had his phone. Letoto said she did not press charges or pursue a criminal complaint. He also didn’t press charges. Letoto also said there was a surveillance camera at the home, but video of him there that day was never presented.

KHON2 reached out to the City and HPD for comment but did not hear back.

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