HILO — A retired Hawaii Police Department detective claims he was falsely arrested and imprisoned early last year, and is suing the county and a police captain.
The civil lawsuit, filed Monday in Hilo Circuit Court by attorney Ted Hong on behalf of John Rodrigues Jr., also claims Rodrigues was defamed and his civil rights were violated.
Rodrigues is seeking unspecified general and special damages from the county and Capt. Samuel Jelsma, the Puna district commander, and punitive damages from Jelsma.
The department itself isn’t named as a defendant.
The complaint alleges that on Jan. 26, 2017, Rodrigues, then recently retired after 26 years on the force, called 911 to request police assistance near the area of Makuu Drive and Third Avenue in Hawaiian Paradise Park.
Rodrigues claimed he’d been threatened by Wesley Kaimana “Mana” Brooks, whom Rodrigues claimed had fired a shot at him with a 9 mm handgun. According to the suit, when Jelsma arrived on scene, he directed officers, with Rodrigues’ permission, to search his truck for firearms — which, as a retired police officer in good standing, Rodrigues is legally authorized to concealed carry under the 2004 federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, or LEOSA. They recovered a Remington shotgun and Smith and Wesson 9 mm handgun from the truck.
Rodrigues told Jelsma that Brooks had stalked Rodrigues’ son, and the son had filed three police reports, including one alleging Brooks had made a death threat against Rodrigues’ son while brandishing an AK-47 and a 9 mm handgun, but police refused to investigate, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit claims Jelsma ordered Rodrigues to drive himself to the Pahoa Police Station, which he did. It alleges that Rodrigues repeatedly asked Jelsma whether he was under arrest, that Jelsma said “no” but also told Rodrigues he wasn’t free to leave. The suit states Rodrigues was improperly held for four hours without being advised of his rights before he was arrested on suspicion of three counts of first-degree terroristic threatening and six firearms offenses.
After conferring with prosecutors, police released Rodrigues pending further investigation, but disseminated a media release stating Rodrigues had been arrested, which is the basis of Rodrigues’ claim of defamation.
Rodrigues has not, to date, been charged in the case, and according to Hong, Rodrigues’ firearms haven’t been returned to him. Hong also claims police haven’t investigated Rodrigues’ or Rodrigues’ son’s claims of having been threatened by Brooks — who, according to court records, is on probation in a felony domestic abuse case and has a separate misdemeanor domestic abuse case pending.
Rodrigues was named East Hawaii Officer of the Month in May 2009 for his investigation of a burglary ring that led to seven arrests and the recovery of more than $100,000 in property. Hong said his client wants, more than anything else, to “get his good name back.”
“He made a complaint to the Police Commission, and they did nothing with it,” Hong said Wednesday. “And you can quote me on this. They said all the right things, that ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ and ‘this is terrible,’ and the Police Commission did nothing.
“We actually filed a claim with the county. Before you file a lawsuit, you have to give the county an opportunity to deal with it. And again, the same lip service. ‘That’s terrible’ and ‘it shouldn’t have happened.’ And it falls into a big black hole. Nothing. We get no response from the county.
“This has taken a toll on him. You know cops … and retired cops, it’s the same thing — they take a lot of pride in what they do, and this has really struck at his core.”
A representative of the Corporation Counsel’s Office said the county has been served with the suit, but had no comment.
Jelsma said he hasn’t been served, and also declined to comment.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.