>> A lesbian couple is suing the Honolulu Police Department and Officer Bobby Harrison, claiming he assaulted and then arrested them because he saw them kissing in an Oahu grocery store.
Les deux femmes avaient été incarcérées à tort en mars dernier. Elles viennent de déposer plainte contre le département de police d’Honolulu, l’un des quatre comtés principaux de l’État d’Hawaï, et le chérif local, un certain Bobby Harrison, qui affirmait avoir été agressé par les deux jeunes femmes lors de leur interpellation dans une épicerie.
L’officier, qui n’était plus en service mais toujours en uniforme, les avait « surpris » se tenant par la main et échangeant tantôt des câlins ou des baisers : « un comportement parfaitement inapproprié en public ». Il aurait d’ailleurs tenté de les prévenir, « les supérettes ne sont pas des chambres d’hôtels », mais le couple a préféré l’ignorer. Et, lorsque Courtney va tenter d’appeler la police, devant l’obstination curieuse de l’agent à les poursuivre jusque devant les caisses du magasin, la situation va dégénérer.
Bobby Harrison lui saisit le bras violemment et lui assainit un coup en plein visage. Et, lorsque Taylor va tenter de s’interposer, il l’a plaquée au sol et entraîne ensuite les deux femmes dans les sous-sols, avec la collaboration du responsable du magasin, « pour être maîtriser ».
Courtney Wilson, 25 ans, et sa compagne Taylor Guerrero, 21 ans, auront droit à un très long sermon sur leur conduite, avant d’être accusées d’agression au premier degré sur un agent de police et emprisonnées. Elles seront libérées trois jours plus tard, après s’être acquittées de deux cautions de 12 000 dollars (un peu moins de 11 000 euros), en écopant d’une interdiction de quitter le compté… le temps des investigations.
Mais les deux femmes sont originaires de Los Angeles. Elles étaient en vacances à Hawaii.
Elles vont pourtant passer les cinq mois suivant de chambres d’amis en foyers d’accueil et refuges pour sans abri, en attendant que les accusations soient finalement abandonnées.
Et ce 27 octobre, assistées de leur conseil, Courtney et Taylor ont entamé une procédure, pour discrimination fondée sur l’orientation sexuelle, en violation avec le droit « à l’égale protection des individus garanti par le 14e amendement » de la Constitution américaine, et par conséquent de Hawaï.
« Nous avons été traitées avec animosité, aucun soin ne nous a été prodigué malgré nos blessures. Et nous n’avons pourtant pas provoqué cet officier », ont déclaré les deux femmes sur la chaîne KHON-TV. Elles réclament un dédommagement pour le préjudice subi ainsi que le remboursement de leurs frais, afin de servir d’exemple pour éviter que ce genre d’incidents ne se reproduisent à l’avenir.
Le département de police d’Honolulu a annoncé qu’une enquête interne avait été ouverte, sans pour autant spécifier si Bobby Harrison, en place depuis 26 ans dans le comté, avait été suspendu de ses fonctions. La vidéo de surveillance a également mystérieusement disparue, comme le confirme l’avocat du couple. Et, la compagnie Foodland se refuse bien évidemment à tout commentaire.
>> Taylor Guerrero and Courtney Wilson, of Los Angeles, were on vacation in Hawaii in March 2015 when the incident occurred, Hawaii News Now reports. Wilson, 25, and Guerrero, 21, were charged with first-degree assault on a police officer. Wilson was also charged with criminal property damage. The charges were dropped five months later.
Harrison was off duty at the time of the incident. The federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday. Guerrero said the officer began harassing her and Wilson after he saw their public displays of affection at Foodland Pupukea.
Courtney Wilson & Taylor Guerrero Lawsuit
“We were holding hands and I was kissing her cheek,” Guerrero told reporters Wednesday. “He was like you girls, you girls can’t do that in here.”
The incident occurred on March 3 when Taylor Guerrero and Courtney Wilson went to the Foodland Pupukea to get something to eat, according to the lawsuit (which you can read above). Harrison was also in the store shopping. He was off-duty, but was in his uniform.
The couple’s attorney, Eric Seitz, writes in the lawsuit that Guerrero and Wilson were holding hands and at one point stopped, hugged and kissed, while shopping. Harrison saw the “consensual romantic contact,” and said in a loud voice, “take it somewhere else,” the lawsuit states.
Guerrero and Wilson then left the area and continued shopping outside the view of Harrison. They said he later saw them “engaged in similar consensual contact,” and again ordered them to stop, threatening to have them thrown out of the store. The couple claims Harrison then found the store’s manager and “encouraged” the manager to issue written trespass warnings to them, ordering them to leave and not return.
While Guerrero and Wilson were in the checkout line, Harrison again confronted them, they claim in the lawsuit. He told them the store was going to issue them a written trespass notice, and told them to step out of line. Wilson said she took out her cell phone and called 911 after “voicing her displeasure” about Harrison’s conduct.
Wilson claims Harrison then stopped her from leaving the store and seized her phone, not allowing her to complete the 911 call.
The lawsuit accuses Harrison of being motivated by “invidious discriminatory animus toward gay/same-sex couples.”
After Harrison took the cell phone from Wilson, Guerrero tried to move in between the two, according to the lawsuit.
Guerrero told Yahoo News the officer, “was bumping his belly against Courtney, and told them “you girls don’t know how to act. You don’t know the difference between a motel and a grocery store.”
The couple claims Harrison “threw” Guerrero to the ground and struck Wilson in the process. He then placed both in restraints.
“I got punched in the face by him,” Wilson told reporters. “I split my nose open. We were on the ground.”
They were then held at the store by Harrison.
“They took us down to the basement of Foodland where they continued to harass us about our conduct in the store, asking us if it was worth it, if we were happy where we are,” Wilson said. “We were just shocked that it all happened.”
Wilson also claims she was denied medical treatment at the scene and after she was arrested. The couple was held in jail for three days and then were ordered to stay in Hawaii. The charges were not dropped until five months after the incident.
According to the Associated Press, they stayed with family friends or strangers they had befriended while they were forced to remain in Hawaii. The couple also spent some time sleeping in a park and at one point thought they would have to go to a homeless shelter. They found jobs cleaning vacation rentals, they told the AP.
Wilson and Guerrero have asked for a jury trial. They are seeking damages and reimbursement of their costs, according to the lawsuit.
“I really just want an example to be made, despite whatever happens,” Wilson told reporters, according to KHON-TV. “I just think what he did was absolutely wrong, without a doubt. If this can help anybody in the future stand up for what’s right.”
They say in the lawsuit they never provoked Harrison to touch them, and allege he “committed an assault and battery,” upon them, causing injuries. They also claim they were discriminated against based on their sexual orientation in violation of the rights to equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and Hawaii law.
The couple also claims in the lawsuit that Harrison was acting as a Honolulu police officer, despite being off duty.
Officer Bobby Harrison has been with the Honolulu Police Department for 26 years, the department said.
He is stationed in Wahiawa.
An internal investigation has been opened, police told Hawaii News Now. The department would not say if Harrison has been placed on restricted duty or leave, or if he remains on normal duty. A spokeswoman said she could not comment further about pending litigation.
The couple’s attorney, Eric Seitz, told KHON-TV he reached out to Foodland, and the company told him the surveillance video that captured the incident has disappeared.