The ACLU of Hawaii is demanding the state’s education department and Honolulu police adopt immediate reforms following allegations that a then-10-year-old girl and her mother were discriminated against and had their rights violated last year.
The organization sent a letter Monday to interim Honolulu Police Chief Rade Vanic, Hawaii Department of Education interim Superintendent Keith T. Hayashi, and other local and state officials on behalf of Tamara Taylor and her daughter, identified as N.B.
The letter states Taylor was detained and kept from seeing her daughter, who was arrested without probable cause, imprisoned and subjected to excessive force following an incident at school.
The Hawaii Department of Education said it does not comment on pending or active litigation, and the Honolulu Police Department said its representatives are reviewing the letter and working with legal counsel to respond.
The letter stems from a January 2020 incident in which N.B., who is Black, was accused of participating in the creation of an offensive drawing of another student who had bullied her at Honowai Elementary School, near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham, according to the ACLU of Hawaii.
The drawing prompted a complaint from a parent, and the school’s administrators allegedly called police on behalf of the angry parent on Jan. 10, 2020, a day after they came into possession of the picture.
That morning, a vice principal called Taylor and asked her to come to the school, saying her daughter was involved in a dispute. The administrator told Taylor that the school was “thinking about calling the police,” the ACLU letter said.
A Honolulu police officer met Taylor when she arrived, according to the letter, which alleges that Taylor was detained in a room and prevented from seeing her daughter while N.B. was interrogated by police and school staff.
After another officer entered, Taylor was told the parent would be pressing charges, was denied her request to see her daughter and lectured her about child-rearing, the letter states.
They allegedly told Taylor that N.B. was treating the situation as a "joke" and asked her to come to the police station to pick up her child.
The letter states that Taylor saw her daughter driven away in a police car and yelled, "No! What did you just do? Bring her back here! You’ve just violated our rights!”
Taylor then cried, "loudly and full of anguish as her daughter was being driven away in handcuffs,” the letter says.
When Taylor picked up her daughter, N.B. was hungry and had marks on her wrists from being handcuffed, according to the letter, which also alleged that one officer told another: "Oh, so she wanted to see what jail is like for a day."
In conversations with an officer and a school administrator, respectively, Taylor was told her daughter was taken to the police station because they didn't want her to hit N.B. at school, and that administrators felt they needed to keep mother and daughter separated because they saw “fire” in Taylor’s eyes, according to the ACLU letter. The letter describes both as prejudiced and “baseless assumptions."
Taylor delivered a grievance letter on Jan. 13, 2020, to the school and its superintendent, requesting her daughter’s transfer to a different school.
"There was no understanding of diversity, African American culture and the presence of police involvement with African-American youth,” Taylor said in an excerpt of the grievance letter that was included in the ACLU's letter. “My daughter and I are traumatized from these events and sure that there is no future for us at Honowai Elementary. I’m disheartened to know that this day will live with [N.B.] as a memory forever."
In May 2020, Taylor also delivered a complaint to the Honolulu Police Department against the three officers who were on-site that day.
The complaint was dismissed in September 2020 after the Professional Standards Office concluded there was insufficient evidence to corroborate.
No charges were ever brought against N.B., the letter states.
The letter from the ACLU of Hawaii alleges that actions taken by school administrators and Honolulu police amount to false imprisonment and arrest, excessive force, a violation of the constitutional right as a minor to companionship with her mother, discrimination on the basis of race and disability, and gross negligence for behavior of the officials in their interactions with N.B. and her mother.
The organization also accused both the education department staff and police officers of failing to account for N.B.'s disability — the ACLU letter states she was diagnosed with ADHD.
The ACLU of Hawaii demanded that the Department of Education and Honolulu Police Department expunge all records related to N.B.’s arrest, pay $500,000 in damages and adopt a raft of reforms that would require officers that issue citations instead of arresting students for alleged misdemeanors, reduce police presence on public school campuses and ensure that parents are able to be with their children in the event of legal trouble.
"Ms. Taylor’s and N.B.’s demands are more than reasonable in light of the strength of the claims and facts of this case. If accepted, they would release all her claims against HPD and DOE," the letter states, saying that the demands "are a good faith attempt to resolve this matter amicably in a case where our client’s attorney’s fees and costs would likely be quite significant."
The ACLU said the deadline for a response to their demands is Nov. 8.