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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Three Honolulu police officers sue, alleging racial bias

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Three Honolulu police officers have filed a federal court lawsuit against the department and several high-ranking officers, alleging the three were discriminated against and their lives placed in danger because of their race and, in one case, because the officer is a woman.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court by Sgt. Shermon Dowkin, and officers Federico Delgadillo Jr. and Cassandra Bennett-Bagorio.

Dowkin, 47, has been with HPD since 1988; Delgadillo, 42, has been an officer since 1998; and Bennett-Bagorio, 44, since 1997. They are represented by attorney Merit Bennett.

Named as defendants were former Chief Boisse Correa, current Chief Louis Kealoha, Assistant Chief Michael Tamashiro, Maj. Kenneth Simmons, Maj. John McEntire, Capt. Nyle Dolera, Lt. Michael Serrao, Lt. Dan Kwon, Lt. William Axt, Lt. Wayne Fernandez, Sgt. Ralston Tanaka, Officer Colby Kashimoto and HPD labor relations adviser Paul Ah Loo.

A police spokeswoman said department officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on pending litigation.

Dowkin and Delgadillo were members of the department's DUI team beginning in January 2008 and were responsible for enforcing traffic laws in Windward O'ahu, according to the lawsuit. But the two said they began noticing almost immediately that they were being treated differently, and they suspected it was because of their race.

At the time, Dowkin was the only African-American supervisor in the department's Windward district and Delgadillo the only Mexican-American in the district, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit stated that it is HPD's standard operating procedure that an officer making a solo traffic stop at night be provided with backup by the nearest available officer. But Dowkin and Delgadillo alleged that through most of 2008, their supervisors ordered other officers to not provide backup, which the lawsuit said, "constantly placed (them) in dangerous situations with stopped suspects."

"On at least two occasions, numerous on-duty officers were observed eating at Zippy's restaurant in Kailua, deliberately choosing to not respond to Sgt. Dowkin's or Officer Delgadillo's calls for backup cover," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleged that on several occasions, the two were subjected to derogatory racial remarks from their superiors and fellow officers. Dowkin and Delgadillo said these officers used words such as "pōpolo," "wetback," "beaner" and "big-nosed Mexican" to describe them.

In 2008, Dowkin and Delgadillo filed racial discrimination complaints with the department, as well as with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission and the state Civil Rights Commission.

Officer Bennett-Bagorio came to the defense of the two after they filed their complaints, and she was "almost immediately retaliated (against) by her supervisors," the lawsuit said.

"This opposition to illegal racial discrimination expressed by Officer Bennett-Bagorio was not what the HPD hierarchy wanted to hear, and after her supposedly confidential testimony was leaked to her chain of command, illegal retaliation against her ensued," the lawsuit said.

The three are asking a judge to order HPD stop all forms of retaliation against them, require the defendants to provide the plaintiffs with backup cover, order the defendants to attend a training program on employee rights, and adopt a comprehensive policy prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. The lawsuit also is seeking an undetermined amount in damages.