Woman says police covered up assault

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Jun. 10—The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, Honolulu police and the private business partner of an officer on behalf of a woman who alleges they covered up her assault by refusing to allow her to file a police report and falsely accusing her of stealing a mobile phone.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Robin Hall alleged that in June 2019 when she met with Leonard Y. Letoto, her former employer at Exceptional Obedience LLC, a Waianae dog training serv ­ice, to secure final payment and return a work phone, Letoto rammed the front door of her home against her body, injuring and terrifying her in a disagreement over the money. The complaint claims Letoto's business partner, officer Christopher Koanui, a 15-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department who is assigned to police District 8, refused to take her report, authored a false theft complaint and threatened to arrest her.

"We need policing, but who oversees officers' wrongs, " said Hall, in a statement issued by the ACLU. "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. I don't want what happened to me to happen to anyone else."

In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Letoto called Hall's allegations "ridiculous " and said he never touched her after they cordially agreed to dissolve their working relationship. He said Koanui immediately recused himself upon arriving at the scene and let other officers manage the case. Hall had two years to file a police report with any of the 1, 800 HPD officers on Oahu and have him arrested for assault but did not, and he didn't have her arrested for theft, he said. A surveillance camera above her door would have captured any assault, he said, but Hall never produced any footage.

"Her allegations are just false, " said Letoto HPD declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers President Malcolm Lutu urged the public to reserve judgement on the officers involved until all the facts are known and the legal process plays out.

"You are only hearing one version of what is being said, " Lutu told the Star-­Advertiser. "We have yet to hear the officers' version."

The suit seeks damages and demands HPD codify a conflict of interest policy to prevent officers from intervening in incidents that affect their private affairs. HPD is currently in the process of drafting exactly such a policy, according to a report delivered to police commissioners on June 2. HPD already has a policy governing second jobs and outside employment that is significantly stricter than policies that apply to the majority of city workers.

The ACLU alleges that Koanui and the other involved officers violated Hall's First Amendment petition rights by preventing her from filing a police report, maliciously abused the criminal legal process, retaliated by opening a false criminal complaint against her, falsely arrested her, and violated her equal protection rights by unlawfully discriminating in the provision of police services.

"What happened to Ms. Hall is deeply alarming.

Ms. Hall was an innocent crime victim. 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, " said Jongwook "Wookie " Kim, legal director for the ACLU of Hawaii, in a news release.

On June 10, 2019, instead of bringing cash as they had previously agreed, Letoto brought a check to Hall's Kapolei home prompting a brief disagreement about the form of payment, according to the complaint. Hall eventually took the check and said she would meet Letoto at the bank to ensure the check cleared, according to the complaint.

Letoto agreed and as Hall began to shut the front door, Letoto began to turn around and walk away before flipping around, grabbing the door handle, pressing down on the thumb piece and ramming his shoulder and knee into the door, trying to push his way inside, injuring her as a result, according to the court filing.

Hall screamed as Letoto continued to try and force his way into the home. Her son heard her and rushed over to help barricade the door from inside the house. Hall alleged that Letoto moved his van to block her driveway and called Koanui on his mobile phone to get him to intervene.

Hall called 911 to say her boss was trying to force his way into her home and unbeknown to Hall the responding officer, Christopher Koanui, was Letoto's business partner.

Other officers also responded to the call but Koanui allegedly refused to allow Hall to file a police report against Letoto with any of the responding officers, according to the complaint. Koanui accused Hall of stealing the phone and wrote up a police report accusing her of theft and opening an investigation according to the complaint. Hall called 911 again and Sgt. Debra Maioho ­-Pohina arrived but did not take action. Maioho-­Pohina later told Hall there was something "very wrong " with the officers' response but did not follow up, the complaint alleges.

Hall tried for weeks to call police, including the department's Professional Standards Office, to pay attention to her complaints, to no avail. She suffered physical and psychological injuries, the suit alleges.

Letoto detailed a different version of events.

He said Hall was responsible for answering the phone and scheduling appointments, responsibilities she could not handle. After agreeing to part ways, she texted him to meet at her Kapolei home. Upon arrival Hall demanded cash, and Letoto refused, telling her he needed the proper documentation. She closed the door on him and said "you will get your phone when I get my money, " he said.

Letoto put his foot in the door to block it and calmly said "Robin, give me my phone."

"She proceeds to scream her head off. I never touched her, she's screaming at me through the opening of the door. I looked at her and said 'seriously, give me my phone, it's comical what are you screaming for ?, I'm just standing here, '" he said. "When she said she called police I pulled my foot out of the door and decided to wait for police."

Koanui was the only officer available to respond at the time, he said.

Koanui served "in the armed forces " according to Exceptional Obedience's website. He earned a diploma from the Animal Behavioral College after completing a 12-month course.

Letoto worked in private security and trained police dogs before he went into business with his friend, Koanui, he said.

The company was incorporated by Letoto and Koanui in August of 2014 but did not submit annual filings as required by law in 2015, 2016, and 2017 and the company's business license was administratively terminated by the state in June of 2018, according to the Business Registration Division of the state Department of Commerce &Consumer Affairs.

Letoto said the filings are a separate matter, related to a former bookkeeper, that is currently being addressed by the business.

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