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A Monk Seal, a Chant, a Beating, a Lawsuit

HONOLULU (CN) - Honolulu police beat and falsely arrested a man who was speaking and chanting to a seal on a beach, in an encounter caught on video, the man claims in court.

Jamie Kalani Rice says he was at Nanakuli beach in Honolulu at around noon on Sept. 10, 2014, when he saw an endangered Hawaiian monk seal lying by the shore.

He sat about three feet away from it and rubbed sand between his hands "as he spoke and chanted to the seal," he says in his Dec. 29 federal complaint against the City and County of Honolulu, its police Officer Ming Wang and Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

A 10-minute and 51-second video of the incident is posted on YouTube.

Rice, 41, claims the defendants used excessive force on him and conspired to cover it up.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration volunteers, who shot the video, called police and told them he was "sitting next to the seal and possibly was harassing the seal," Rice says in the complaint.

The video shows Rice sitting close to the seal and rubbing sand between his hands, as he says in the complaint. The seal does not appear to mind. However, at 4:20, he tosses a handful of sand at the seal. At 5:05 the seal makes a lunging movement at Rice. Rice then makes some gestures to the seal, which reacts by moving away from him or toward him, alternately.

At 6:13 someone says, "Hey, buddy," apparently Officer Wang, who appears at 6:28. He speaks to Rice and gestures, obviously directing him to move away from the seal. At 6:48 the officer takes an expandable baton from his belt and flicks it open.

The men continue talking, and at 8:35 the seal wiggles away from them rather quickly.

The two men then walk down the beach away from the seal, for 100 yards or more, as it appears on the video. Their conversation, if any, is not intelligible on the video. At 9:12 Rice shouts something at the officer, who barely responds, from behind. At 9:31, however, he runs in front of Rice and appears to spray something at him. At 9:40 he begins beating him with the baton. He stops, then resumes and takes Rice down at 9:59. He kicks him at least once.

Rice, a native Hawaiian, says in the complaint that Wang sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.

Rice says he told officers and a judge that he believed the seal was sick and that he never meant to harm it. He said in a statement that he was chanting and sharing his mana, or energy, by rubbing sand on himself and tossing the sand into the air, to heal the seal.

He claims the defendants, "and each of them, took steps to write reports that altered the events as they actually took place so as to justify Wang use force [sic] against the plaintiff to effectuate his arrest."

Rice was treated for broken bones in his right hand. He says the beating was unjustified because "he at no time posted a threat, resisted or struck Wang."

Prosecutors initially declined to press charges against Wang, but chief prosecutor Keith Keneshiro disagreed and ordered his staff to re-examine the case, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Rice made a deal for time served and pleaded no-contest to obstructing a government operation, a misdemeanor, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. Prosecutors declined to charge him with resisting arrest.

The Honolulu Police Department said it investigated Wang, and that the results of such investigations are confidential unless they result in termination. Rice seeks punitive damages for negligence, civil rights violations, conspiracy, assault and battery, false imprisonment and emotional distress. He is represented by Michael Green and Richard Gronna.

Wang remains on patrol in a different part of the city, the police department said.

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