County approves $100K for wrongful raid defense

County legislators on Wednesday approved a request from the Kaua’i County Attorney Lani Nakazawa to use up to $100,000 to hire attorneys for a court case in which an elderly ‘Oma’o couple claimed they were brutalized by Kaua’i police officers during a search of their home for a box of marijuana.

The couple, Sharon and William McCulley, claimed in their federal lawsuit that they were victims of mistaken identity.

The box was found by police in another home in ‘Oma’o occupied by three men, including J Robertson, the executive director of Ho’ike Kauai Community Television, Inc.

Robertson admitted responsibility for having a small amount of marijuana in the house, and pleaded guilty to third-degree promotion of a detrimental drug.

During its meeting at the historic County Building on Wednesday, the Kaua’i County Council approved funding to contest the allegations in the lawsuit filed by the Mc-Culleys.

The council’s action comes at a time when government leaders have spent the same amount and may have to spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars more to protect the county’s interest in court cases filed by residents and KPD officers.

In the former, residents of the Ohana Kauai have taken their fight to the Hawai’i Supreme Court to preserve a charter-approved tax measure that rolls back, and caps county property tax bills.

In the latter, in one case, KPD officers have filed lawsuits against the county and KPD leaders for not having taken corrective actions to prevent physical violence or the threat of physical violence within the department.

In the lawsuit Sharon and William McCulley filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu on Jan. 11, the couple alleged their constitutional rights had been violated and that they had been assaulted.

The couple also claimed that they had suffered emotional distress during a raid they claimed came about because of mistaken identity.

The couple was baby-sitting their grandchildren when officers entered into their home last March, the lawsuit said.

Police officers Scott Kaui and Damien Mendiola were named in the lawsuit.

The couple claimed Mendiola grabbed Sharon McCulley, shoved her to the ground, hand-cuffed her and pressed a hand-gun to her body with such force that it left a mark.

A grandchild was forced to lie next to the woman, the suit claimed.

William McCulley suffers from a nerve disorder and wears a leg brace, the lawsuit notes.

McCulley claimed he was thrown to the floor, and an electronic device he wore to alleviate pain malfunctioned, causing him to flop on the floor.

The officers had entered the McCulley home after carrying out a search warrant on March 15, 2005.

According to court records, a tracking device was put in a box that allegedly contained 11 pounds of marijuana and was sent from California to Kaua’i. The device was primed to go off if the box was opened, court records state.

The box was picked up at the Koloa post office by David Hibbitt, who drove away in a Toyota truck, according to the records.

Kaua’i police officers in vehicles trailed Hibbitt, but lost sight of him.

KPD officers, however, zeroed in on a radio signal from the box at two homes on a private road off Kaumuali’i Highway.

KPD officers then raided the homes, including the McCulley home, before they searched a separate home in ‘Oma’o occupied by Hibbitt, Robertson and Nathan Prather and found the box, according to court records.

Hibbitt has pleaded guilty to first-degree promotion of a detrimental drug, and is scheduled for sentencing this month.

Prather pleaded guilty to third-degree promotion of a detrimental drug

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com
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