Woman alleges sexual extortion, theft in suit against Maui PD, 2 ex-officers
The Maui News
WAILUKU, Maui - A Lahaina woman is suing the Maui Police Department and two former officers, alleging one officer illegally arrested her and stole her property and the other officer extorted her for sexual favors.
Wailuku attorney David Sereno filed the lawsuit this week in 2nd Circuit Court on behalf of Tracy Motelewski.
In addition to the Maui Police Department and Maui County, the lawsuit names former MPD officers Steven Gunderson and Kris Galon.
According to the lawsuit, Motelewski and a male passenger were stopped at Puamana Park on Aug. 17, 2008, when the passenger went to use the restroom and first Galon, then Gunderson approached Motelewski. At the time, both men were working as Lahaina patrol officers.
After questioning Motelewski, Gunderson searched her vehicle and a bag in the trunk belonging to the male passenger, seizing a container allegedly containing a white powdery substance. Then he confiscated Motelewski's purse, which contained $500 and a ring, according to the lawsuit.
Gunderson released the male passenger, who took Motelewski's car without her permission, while she was arrested and held overnight in a cell at the Lahaina Police Station.
According to the lawsuit, Gunderson knew the white powdery substance wasn't an illegal narcotic.
When Motelewski was released at about 5 a.m. the next day, her purse wasn't returned and she was forced to walk home, the complaint alleges. It also alleges that Galon, who was still on duty, pulled over on Honoapiilani Highway, offering Motelewski a ride and picking her up in his patrol car before pulling into a parking lot near Puukolii Road.
Galon made comments to Motelewski "crudely stating that he would destroy (a) pipe seized" if she would perform a sexual act, the lawsuit says. He allegedly forced her to perform the sex act before driving her to her neighborhood and releasing her.
Later, Galon called Motelewski "and told her that he needed to give the evidence custodian something in exchange for the removal of the pipe," the lawsuit says.
After Motelewski reported the incident to another police officer, she received anonymous threatening telephone calls, Sereno said.
The lawsuit alleges negligent supervision and training of the officers by MPD.
Without naming the officers, police reported that three officers were fired in March 2009 after an investigation into allegations that money was stolen from a woman who was arrested and then extorted for sexual favors in Lahaina. One of the fired officers was a recent recruit class graduate who was riding along with a more experienced officer.
On Tuesday, during his arraignment in 2nd Circuit Court, Gunderson pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree theft and tampering with evidence in connection with the incident.
Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey said Friday that the county wasn't liable for the former officers' actions and would file a cross-claim against each former officer.
"It is unfortunate that Ms. Motelewski has chosen to sue the Maui Police Department," she said. "The Maui Police Department took appropriate action in response to her complaint. Both former officers were immediately removed from active duty and, after a thorough investigation, terminated.
"The Maui Police Department conducts extensive background checks on all applicants, which includes psychological testing. There was no indication to the Maui Police Department that these officers would engage in the alleged misconduct. Clearly, the actions alleged by the plaintiff were outside the scope of their duties as police officers.
"Officer integrity is one of the Maui Police Department's highest priorities, as exhibited by the vast majority of Maui Police Department officers," Lutey said. "As a result, incidents like this are extremely rare. The county was not negligent in this matter, and we are confident that we will prevail."
Sereno said firing the officers doesn't excuse what they did while employed and on duty.
"This isn't the first time that a woman has been sexually assaulted by a Maui police officer in Lahaina," he said.
In 2005, former Lahaina patrol officer Aaron Won was sentenced to a five-year prison term after being found guilty of attempted second-degree extortion and second-degree unlawful imprisonment. He was convicted of soliciting sex from a woman he arrested and took to a police substation in Napili in December 2004.
Sereno said Motelewski "was simply walking home when she's picked up by a Maui police officer after having been stolen from by a Maui police officer."
"We believe that the county is liable for these officers' actions," Sereno said. "Their failure to properly train and supervise them will be issues in the case.
"To suggest firing them compensates my client for the horror she's had to go through and the trauma she's had to go through is absurd. We believe that the county is liable for these officers' actions. We wouldn't file against the county unless we thought we were going to prevail."
Wailuku attorney William Sloper, who is representing Gunderson in his criminal case, couldn't be reached for comment.
Galon also couldn't be reached for comment.