A Honolulu homeless man fearing he would be arrested, reluctantly obeyed a police officer’s orders to lick a urinal, according to a court document made public Wednesday after a former officer pleaded guilty to failing to report the incident.
And it wasn’t the first time. Officer John Rabago had previously threatened another man he was questioning that he wouldn’t be arrested only if he stuck his head in a toilet, the document said.
Rabago, who remains on restricted duty, and Reginald Ramones, who left the department in August, were arrested and charged earlier this year with depriving a man of his civil rights.
Rabago has pleaded not guilty.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, Ramones on Wednesday pleaded guilty to a lesser charge that he knew Rabago committed a civil rights violation but didn’t inform authorities about it.
Ramones said in court that Rabago persuaded him not to tell authorities what happened in the public bathroom and to delete their text messages about it.
Rabago told him to say he was joking when he talked about making the man lick the urinal, Ramones said.
Ramones has maintained both men were innocent during meetings with their lawyers, said Rabago’s defense attorney, Megan Kau. Ramones never mentioned either bathroom incident during those meetings, she said.
“I think he got scared and he’s now saying things he wouldn’t necessarily have said before,” Kau said. Rabago still intends to go to trial in March, she added.
Ramones faces up to three years in prison when he’s sentenced in February.
After the man, identified in court documents as S.I., “knelt down before the urinal and licked the urinal,” Ramones’ plea agreement said, Rabago “laughed as he told other officers that S.I. had just licked the urinal.”
Rabago said the January 2018 incident was “just like what happened at Cartwright Field,” the plea agreement said, describing a previous incident when Ramones saw a man place his head in a toilet after Rabago’s threat.
“It makes no difference whether you’re a prince or a pauper, policeman, prosecutor or the president of the United States. Everyone is accountable and no one is above the law,” said Myles Breiner, an attorney representing the homeless man. Breiner said his client is currently incarcerated for a parole violation in a drug case.
There was physical force involved in getting him to lick the urinal pad, Breiner said.
“He submitted to the coercion and the duress of a bunch of officers who found it amusing to force him to place his face in a urinal,” Breiner said.
Acting Honolulu Police Chief Jonathon Grems, who is filling in while Police Chief Susan Ballard is out of town, said in a statement that the department wasn’t aware of any earlier incidents involving Rabago. He asked anyone with information to contact the police commission or the department’s professional standards office so an investigation may be opened.
Two other officers were also placed on restricted duty when Ballard turned the case over to the FBI last year. They have since returned to full duty, police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said, adding that an administrative investigation is ongoing.
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