BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN– HONOLULU – A heated legislative debate – and now the arrest of two alleged prostitutes – have put an international spotlight on Honolulu Police Department vice investigation tactics.
HPD deputy chiefs Marie McCauley and HPD Major Jerry Inouye called a press conference Tuesday afternoon to address allegations that arose earlier that day in Honolulu District Court related to the prosecution of 41-year-old Thai national on prostitution charges.
Nilsawit’s attorney, Myles Breiner, filed a motion to dismiss the case, not only because he said his client is innocent, but also because “an abundance of clearly exculpatory evidence and discoverable evidence was not provided to the defense.”
Breiner said in a court filing, HPD Vice Detective Paul Goo, who arrested his client, “informed the state that another off-duty officer was present and assisted at the time of the defendant’s arrest, but failed to file a police report because he was a paying customer of the massage parlor at the time of the defendant’s arrest and not acting in an official police capacity, although he assisted in the defendant’s arrest.”
Breiner’s allegations put the department on the defense Tuesday. McCauley insisted the allegations are false – all officers at the VIP Relaxation club on Keeaumoku Street where the incident took place on Feb. 19, 2014, were on duty. She said the other officer made a separate arrest in VIP that day. The HPD has time cards for the officers in question, McCauley said.
She said the officers had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the department, but would not say if there were video or audio recordings or how the internal investigation was conducted.
Outside the courtroom Tuesday morning, Breiner also questioned HPD’s investigation tactics, saying his client, who denies being a prostitute, found Goo “lying on a massage bed masturbating.”
McCauley also denied this allegation and chastised Breiner: “It is understandable that a defense attorney will say whatever he can to assist his clients, however we have reviewed the cases, and have found absolutely no misconduct occurred on the part of these officers. It is irresponsible for the attorney to allege officer misconduct and not file a formal complaint or provide us with the information that we can investigate. We currently have zero pending investigations involving officer misconduct relating to prostitution arrests.”
Breiner said his client maintains her report of her encounter with Goo is factual, and it was his conversation with the city prosecutor where the issue of the alleged off duty police officer arose. He asked the police and prosecutor to produce the report that details the other arrest HPD said was made at the time his client was arrested, but they have not yet granted his request, Breiner said.
SEX FOR MONEY
HPD has been under fire in recent weeks since advocates made public that police can legally have sex with prostitutes and sex trafficking victims before arresting them for solicitation
Under Hawaii law, police do not have to have physical contact with prostitutes to make an arrest. They must prove someone is willing to exchange sex for money.
As a result of the international media firestorm resulting from this sex penetration disclosure, Hawaii lawmakers passed legislation this session banning police from using sexual penetration in the course of an investigation.
An HPD spokesperson testified at the legislature in recent weeks that even before the issue arose, HPD officers do not use sexual penetration as a means to investigate a prostitution crime.
McCauley reinforced that statement Tuesday. “I want to make perfectly clear to all of you that we do not allow our officers to have sex with prostitutes – period. HPD has strict guidelines to regulate officers’ conduct and all allegations of criminal or administrative conduct are fully investigated.”
However, another Honolulu defense attorney, William Harrison, told Hawaii Reporter Wednesday that his 33-year-old client, also arrested and charged with prostitution by HPD’s Officer Goo, tells an even more graphic story than the alleged Thai national prostitute.
In the Nov. 16, 2013 police report authored by Goo himself, Goo wrote about the encounter with Harrison’s client: “(She) removed the towel from her waste and began to rub my penis with her right hand. (She) had a pink colored condom in her left hand. (She) put the condom at the tip of my penis; I said ‘not yet, you will make me ‘cum’ too fast.’
“She then put her mouth on the condom in place as she rolled it to the base of my penis. She then straddled me holding my penis with her right hand. I asked her, ‘Is this going to be extra?” She replied, ‘It is going to be $150 for all of this.’ I asked her ‘$150 for everything?’ She said ‘yes.’ Everything is street vernacular for falcios and intercourse,” Goo wrote.
Harrison said his client, who was in court Wednesday, indicated to him that Goo engaged in sexual penetration before arresting her on Nov. 16, 2013. She plans to file a complaint with the police commission and HPD’s internal affairs, Harrison said.
“The court allowed us to continue the case (Wednesday) and file the complaints,” Harrison said.
Inouye and McCauley didn’t have an opportunity to respond to the newest allegations brought by Harrison’s client. However, they were not commenting on specific cases and have continued to maintain there are tight controls on their investigations.
DEFINITION OF SEX
When pressed by reporters, the HPD spokespeople would not detail the department’s definition of sex and fondling or describe other sex acts that are allowed.
“We cannot go into our tactics, but there was no misconduct on the officers’ part,” McCauley said of the VIP case.
Inouye said he cannot discuss strategies – even in general – or whether investigators use audio and video to document their officers’ reports.
“We do take pains to make sure the investigation is conducted in a professional manner. We always have a supervisor on scene and officers don’t act in isolation. We have other officers involved in the operation as a matter of checks and balances,” Inouye said.
Kathryn Xian, an advocate for trafficking victims and head of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said the law in Hawaii is too permissive with regard to what police are allowed to do sexually in prostitution or sex trafficking investigations.
“There is no instrument of accountability,” Xian said.
This lack of accountability creates a major loophole for corruption by individual officers who may take advantage of victims and abuse their power as law enforcement, Xian said.
“HPD must create a protocol modeled after other states that do not practice sexual contact during investigations of prostitution or trafficking. What if the person was an underage child? Where would she turn to for help?” Xian asked.
HOUSES OF PROSTITUTION, PREVALENT
In 2013, HPD made 16 arrests of pimps for promoting prostitution.
“Those cases all resulted from first arresting prostitutes and then getting them the help they desperately needed to get them out of the situation. Without the initial prostitution arrests, we would not be able to make these human trafficking arrests and get these prostitutes the help they need,” McCauley said.
The majority of prostitution cases arise from activities at 24-hour “massage parlors”, whose owners are never arrested “unless they make waves” or “don’t want to pay kickbacks to cab drivers and cops,” Breiner said.
There are hundreds of massage parlors in Hawaii that continue to thrive, Breiner said, adding if law enforcement were serious about cutting prostitution crimes, they would conduct a racketeering case, shut down the establishments, seize funds and property and arrest the “Mamasans.”
Xian said it alarms her that officers “chose to focus their prosecution of a vulnerable woman for a misdemeanor prostitution offense rather than taking up the more important crime of the felony promotion of her prostitution by the brothel within which HPD had found her.”
“Why is this brothel still in operation?” Xian asked.
Inouye said HPD’s goal is to hold everyone involved accountable: “Our goal is not just to make individual prostitution arrests. It is to hold the business owners and the landlords accountable for what is going on at their place of establishment. And if we can demonstrate that they have knowledge of it (crimes), then we are going to take them to court in the same way we prosecute individual offenses.”
Inouye said he could not immediately think of any specific instance where the HPD used such tactics, shutting down a house of prostitution, but said, “That is our goal.”