Hawaii police officers charged over car chase
The charges come 18 months after the officers ran a car off the road and abandoned the driver with brain injuries and a 14-year-old boy that was left partially paralyzed by the crash, according to prosecutors.
by Candace Cheung, Court House News, March 17, 2023
(CN) — Four Hawaii Police Department Officers have been charged for their involvement — or rather their lack of involvement — in a September 2021 car crash on Oahu that injured six people, two of them severely.
The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney filed felony charges against the officers on Thursday, 19 months after the incident. Prosecutors say the officers chased down a vehicle without using their police cars' lights or sirens, and then leaving the injured behind without helping.
Officer Joshua Nahulu. who prosecutors say was the nearest to the vehicle when it crashed, faces the harshest charge — causing a collision involving death or serious injury, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Officers Erik Smith, Jake Ryan Bartolome and Robert Gus Lewis III face a charge of hindering prosecution, a Class C felony, and misdemeanor conspiracy to hinder prosecution.
According to charging documents, the four officers responded to a noise complaint at a beach park in West Oahu around 3:30 a.m. The officers followed a white sedan out from the park onto Farrington Highway, where they pursued the car at high speeds without employing either sirens or blue lights at any time during the pursuit as required.
The vehicle later crashed on the side of road and five out of six passengers were ejected. All six sustained some level of injury, with the driver suffering a traumatic brain injury. A 14-year-old passenger was initially paralyzed from the waist down.
Prosecutors say the officers then left the scene without rendering aid, and instead met at a nearby school parking lot where they conspired to fake reports that portrayed the crash as a single car incident. The officers later returned to the crash site after dispatch notified them there had been a massive car collision. According to court documents, they then “comported [themselves] as if [they] had no prior knowledge of the facts that gave rise to the collision.”
Prosecutors also say Smith, Bartolome and Lewis later submitted police reports about the incident that merely indicated that they had responded to the event, without acknowledging their presence during the crash.
An investigation, including video from security cameras that captured the chase, and news reports of the crash eventually revealed that the extent of the four officers' involvement.
“Three of the officers had their police powers removed following the crash, and the fourth officer’s police powers will also be restricted. Along with the collision investigation, an internal administrative investigation was initiated and remains open," acting Hawaii Police Chief Keith Horikawa said in a statement.
Thursday’s charges only revolve around injuries to the driver of the sedan, who sued the officers in April 2022. The charges do not address the 14-year-old boy who had been partially paralyzed by the crash, who sued the officers a week after the crash.
AP: Honolulu police officers charged after alleged crash coverup
HNN: Four HPD officers charged with felonies for alleged illegal police chase, failing to render aid after crash
KITV: 4 HPD officers charged with felonies in connection to 2021 car crash in Makaha
SA: 4 HPD officers charged in Makaha crash that left teen paralyzed
CB: HPD Officers Charged With Felony Offenses Over Makaha Crash
HNN: Critics: Charges against officers in near-fatal police chase are too lenient