The Honolulu Police Department is fielding accusations of discrimination following a romantic Hawaiian sojourn gone awry.
Courtney Wilson, 25, and Taylor Guerrero, 22, had been on vacation in Oahu for just two days when they were arrested, put behind bars and forced to live on the streets after spending their trip budget on bail.
The couple of two years has gotten remarks about their same-sex relationship before, they told the Associated Press, but nothing like this.
According to a federal lawsuit filed against the Honolulu Police Department Tuesday night, Wilson and Guerrero’s misfortune began in a grocery store at the beginning of March.
The pair had stopped inside a Foodland and were being physically affectionate — holding hands, hugging and kissing — when a Honolulu police officer, Bobby Harrison, noticed and ordered them to “take it somewhere else,” the suit claims.
They immediately complied and continued shopping. Soon afterwards, Harrison allegedly witnessed them being intimate again and threatened to throw them out of the store.
The suit claims that the officer then confronted Wilson and Guerrero in the cashier line where they were waiting to make their purchases, telling them that the store was going to issue a notice barring them from the establishment.
In response, Wilson pulled out her cell phone to call 911 about Harrison’s conduct, allegedly prompting him to seize and strike her, as well as throw Guerrero to the ground.
“He was bumping his belly against Courtney,” Guerrero told the AP. “He said, ‘You girls don’t know how to act. You don’t know the difference between a motel and a grocery store.'”
Harrison placed the pair under arrest and brought them to jail, where Wilson and Guerrero remained for two days until they both paid $1,300 in bonds for the $12,000 bail that had been set for each of them. While securing their release had cost them all the money they had for the trip, they were required to remain in Honolulu as they waited to appear in court.
For about a week, their attorney Eric Seitz told The Washington Post, “with no money and no place to go, they ended up fending for themselves and sleeping in a park.”
“My clients are pretty distressed that this happened to them on the first day of their vacation,” he said. “They’re ultimately very glad to have survived this experience.”
Seitz added, however, that they’re grateful for the support they have received from strangers since the ordeal. While out on the street, Wilson and Guerrero befriended people who invited them into their homes.
Relying on odd jobs and restaurant gigs, they eventually saved enough money to rent an apartment. When they appeared before a criminal court in July, their case was promptly dismissed by the prosecutor.
Had the court pursued the case, Seitz said, his clients would have sued it too. “Ultimately, the prosecutor did the right thing,” he said.
The civil case against Harrison and the Honolulu Police Department alleges that the officer discriminated against Wilson and Guerrero because of their sexuality, causing them to suffer both physical and emotional damage related to the humiliation and distress of the incident.
A specialist in civil rights cases, Seitz said his clients are primarily seeking monetary compensation but would settle for less financial retribution if the department promised to take measures to prevent similar altercations in the future.
Foodland, which is not part of the lawsuit, has apologized to the women, the AP reports. Police department spokesperson Michelle Yu told the AP that an internal investigation was initiated Wednesday to look into the possible wrongful arrest.
Harrison, who remains on active duty, has served on the force for 26 years.
“I really just want an example to be made of this particular officer,” Wilson said in an interview with KHON-TV. “I just think that what he did was absolutely wrong, without a doubt, and if this could help anybody in the future stand up for what’s right.”