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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hawaii to Pay Roughed-Up Activist $100,000

HONOLULU (CN) - The Hawaii Senate Finance Committee received a bill Friday to settle claims that state public safety officers assaulted a civil rights activist as he peacefully protested prayer in the Legislature.

Attorney General David Louie and Deputy Attorney General Carol Inagaki asked the House Judiciary Committee for $100,000 to settle the claims of Mitchell Kahle and Kevin Hughes on March 20.

Kahle, who is the founder of Hawaii Citizens for Separation of Church and State, and Hughes, a cameraman, sued the state and eight officers of the Senate, Sheriff's Department and the Department of Public Safety.

Officers arrested Kahle after he protested a customary religious invocation that opened the last day of the 2010 legislative session at the Capitol building in Honolulu. Hughes allegedly rolled film as the officers assaulted him and Kahle.

The November 2010 complaint was promptly removed to U.S. District Court, but the parties settled in the judge's chambers last week. U.S. District Judges Kevin Chang and Leslie Kobayashi had presided over the case.

Kahle said he sent three emails to House and Senate members in the days before the final session, requesting that they not begin legislative sessions with prayer.

He wrote that members of his citizen organization would interrupt the prayer with "peaceful acts of civil disobedience," if "unconstitutional Christian prayers" continued.

"All legislators are ethically, legally, and honor bound to treat all citizens fairly and equally," the letters said, according to the complaint. "The legislature should CEASE and DESIST of all unconstitutional and unethical reli[gious] activities and apologize to the majority of Hawaii citizens who are not Christian." (Capitalization in original.)

At the last session on April 29, 2010, Kahle informed the Lieutenant of Security Daryl Naauao of his plans to stage a peaceful protest.

When then-Senate President Colleen Hanabusa introduced a reverend, who asked everyone to "bow with me in prayer," Kahle stood and calmly stated, "I object, my name is Mitch Kahle, and I object to this prayer on the grounds that it violates my rights under the Constitution of the United States." Kahle's display lasted "approximately 9 seconds," and he immediately sat back down "quiet with his hands folded in his lap," according to the complaint. He says Sergeant-at-Arms Bienvenido Villaflor and Sheriff Deputy Freddy Carabbacan nevertheless forcefully removed him.

The bill now pending before the Senate admits that "some sort of scuffle" occurred between Hughes, Kahle and senate security personnel - one that included Kahle's "remov[al] from the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms with the assistance of deputy sheriff personnel."

In addition, Mr. Hughes filmed the incident and "in the melee, his camera was shoved into his face causing minor injuries and damaging the video camera," the bill states.

Kahle and Hughes characterized the "scuffle" as an "indifferen[t]" "gang-style attack" that landed Hughes in the emergency room. Kahle says he was further subjected to an unprovoked assault behind closed doors.

Villaflor, the sergeant at arms, is described as a former professional fighter and World Boxing Association champion. He allegedly beat Kahle with help from defendants Carabbacan, Naauao, Doyles Arakaki, Daniel Kwon, Raymond Schwartz and Betty Muraki.

Before the attack, "Kahle had not committed any violation of law and sheriff deputies did not have probable cause to arrest [him] for any crime," according to the the complaint. But he says the officers still took him in handcuffs into a rotunda elevator, where they "slammed Kahle, face first, against the side wall of the elevator," "took turns assaulting [him] [...] giving him body blows."

When the elevator door opened, Kahle was then allegedly escorted "down the hallway to a Public Safety Office, located in the basement (chamber level) of the Capitol." (Parentheses in original.) He says the assault resumed there with officers "slamming Kahle to the floor so hard that he spun around and crashed into a cabinet, breaking the cabinet door."

Kahle was later acquitted of disorderly conduct with Judge Leslie Hayashi saying that the state had violated his civil rights in the incident.

Kahle was set to pursue his civil case against Hawaii in June, with help from the Hawaii branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Courthouse News has been unable to ascertain what actions, if any, Hawaii has taken against the public safety officers in the incident, or how frequently state officials invoke prayer in the Honolulu Capitol sessions.

Kahle and Hughes were represented by Stephanie Marn and James Bickerton of Bickerton Lee Dang & Sullivan.

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