By Malia Zimmerman |Watchdog.org
HONOLULU — Advocates for victims of sex trafficking recently told lawmakers police officers may legally have sex with prostitutes before arresting them.
The Honolulu Police Department has been under scrutiny ever since.
Under Hawaii law, police don’t need to have physical contact with prostitutes to make an arrest, though they must prove someone is willing to exchange sex for money.
Advocates, including Kathryn Xian of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and Kris Coffield of IMUAlliance, successfully waged a campaign to get lawmakers to pass legislation April 27 to ban police from having sex during the course of investigation. Gov. Neil Abercrombie still needs to approve the legislation before it becomes law.
Deputy chiefs Marie McCauley and Kerry Inouye of the Honolulu Police Department confirmed Tuesday it’s against department policy for police to have sex with prostitutes.
“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,” McCauley said.
However, testimony this week in Honolulu District Court have thrown the police vice tactics back into the media spotlight. Tuesday, 41-year-old Thai national Siriporn Nilsawit was in court 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 the vice detective 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.”
McCauley said the report is false — all officers at the VIP Relaxation club on Keeaumoku Street on Feb. 19, where the arrest took place, 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.
The department cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, but neither McCauley nor Inouye would not say if there were video or audio recordings or how the internal investigation was conducted.
Breiner asked the police and prosecutor to produce the report that details the other arrest, but police haven’t yet complied. When pressed by reporters, HPD spokespeople would not detail the department’s definition of sex and fondling or describe other allowed sex acts.
“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.”
Xian said the law in Hawaii is too permissive with regard to what police can to do sexually in prostitution or sex trafficking investigations.
“There is no instrument of accountability,” 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.
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.
Briener was critical of HPD’s tactics, saying they’re ineffective. 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.
Xian is alarmed 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.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com