4 Hawaii officers charged in 2021 pursuit crash that paralyzed teen
An attorney said some of the officers allegedly returned to the scene of the crash and warned witnesses not to talk to investigators
By Peter Boylan
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — Four Honolulu police officers face felony charges in connection with a September 2021 police pursuit that ended in a crash that the officers allegedly fled and conspired to cover up.
The charges come about 18 months after the Sept. 12, 2021, incident in Makaha, which started when three of the officers responded to a noise complaint in Maili Beach Park.
Officer Joshua J.S. Nahulu, 37, is charged with collisions involving death or serious bodily injury for allegedly causing the crash near the corner of Farrington Highway and Orange Street that left the driver of a white 2000 four-door Honda Civic with a traumatic brain injury.
Nahulu faces a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Officers Erik X.K. Smith, 25, Jake R.T. Bartolome, 35, and Robert G. Lewis III were charged with hindering prosecution in the first degree, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Smith, Bartolome and Lewis were also charged with conspiracy to commit hindering prosecution in the first degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
“The charges against these four officers are the result of an exhaustive investigation and review of the evidence, " said Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm in a news release. “These charges demonstrate that it is important to seek justice even when those believed to have committed crimes are the very people we expect to uphold the law.”
The officers, who were released after posting $5,000 bail, were placed on restriction of police authority shortly after the crash. Lewis will be placed on ROPA, according to a statement from police.
“The charges filed against these officers by the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney are serious as was the collision that resulted in injuries to multiple individuals, " said acting HPD Chief Keith Horikawa. “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.”
Attorneys in a civil suit against the city allege that Nahulu had a long-running feud with Jonaven Perkins-Sinapati, the driver of the car, which had six people in it when it crashed. Perkins-Sinapati suffered brain damage, was on life support after the crash and is pursuing a civil action against the officers.
Four other passengers who sustained injuries in the early morning crash recently settled with the city for $4.5 million, their attorney, Michael I. Stern, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an interview. His clients were 17, 18, 20 and 21 at the time of the crash.
Stern said some of the officers allegedly returned to the scene of the crash on Sept. 13, 2021, and warned witnesses not to talk to investigators.
“The cops were going there telling them they better not say anything. I’ve got a lot of happy clients tonight. Everyone’s been waiting for this minute. All the people in Waianae have been waiting for today, " Stern said. “They’ve (prosecutors ) got them for sure. These guys did some really bad things.”
Another passenger that morning was Dayton Gouveia, 14 at the time of the crash. He was paralyzed for months from the neck down, and doctors estimate the health care serv ices he will need throughout his life will cost about $7 million.
Gouveia is working through depression and has permanent nerve damage and injuries to his neck and back that have led to mobility and balance issues and problems with internal functions.
His family’s attorney, Eric Seitz, told the Star-Advertiser in an interview that the city recently walked away from mediation that started in November, saying they needed to involve their excess-insurance carrier. A hearing in their civil case scheduled for today was canceled by the city, Seitz said.
Seitz called the 18-month lag to charge the officers “disturbing " and said anyone other than a police officer involved in a similar incident would be quickly charged with attempted murder or attempted manslaughter.
“In any other city in the country, they (the officers ) would have been fired and prosecuted a long time ago, " Seitz said.
The Honolulu Corporation Counsel’s office did not immediately reply to Star-Advertiser requests for comment.
At about 3 :30 a.m. Sept. 12, 2021, Nahulu, Smith, Bartolome and Lewis were dispatched to a noise complaint about a party in Maili Beach Park, according to the felony information and nonfelony complaint. The Honda drove out of the parking lot, and Nahulu, Smith and Bartolome allegedly followed in an unannounced pursuit, according to a news release from Alm’s office.
Nahulu was allegedly “nearest the sedan when it left the highway and crashed onto private property " at about 3 :45 a.m., injuring all six occupants, some critically.
Nahulu, Smith and Bartolome allegedly drove past the crash, then acted like they knew nothing about it when a police dispatcher sent them back to the scene. The trio are accused of meeting up in the driveway of Waianae Intermediate School after the collision before the 911 dispatcher sent them to the scene of the crash, according to the complaint.
Body-worn camera footage from Smith, Bartolome and Lewis responding to the crash scene allegedly shows them acting as if they had “no prior knowledge of the facts that gave rise to the collision.”
Lewis also met with Smith and Bartolome before responding to the scene of the crash and then allegedly acted like he didn’t know what went on.
Smith, Bartolome and Lewis allegedly submitted false reports that didn’t mention they were chasing the car that crashed. Nahulu is alleged to have left the scene of the accident without stopping and rendering aid as required by law.
The official police description of the event posted on HPD’s website at the time described the incident as a “single-vehicle crash " with five occupants, rather than six, and did not mention the high-speed pursuit.
“Unit 1, traveling westbound on Farrington Highway at a high rate of speed, attempted to make a right turn onto Orange Street. Unit 1 lost control, veered right of the roadway, strikes the concrete curb, and travels through an open lot. Unit 1 continued traveling through a fenced property, collided with trees, and continued over the concrete wall of the adjacent property where it came to rest, " reads the police report of the incident. “The five male occupants of Unit 1 were ejected from the vehicle. As a result of the collision, the Unit 1 operator and one of the rear passengers were transported to an area hospital in critical condition. The remaining three passengers were also transported to an area hospital, but in serious condition.”
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