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Rodrigues v. County of Hawaii

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 30, 2019




         This case arises from a 2017 incident involving retired police officer Plaintiff John Rodrigues, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) and officers of the Hawai`i County Police Department (“HCPD”) that ultimately led to Plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against the County of Hawai`i (the “County”) and Major (formerly, Captain) Samuel Jelsma (“Defendant Jelsma, ” together with the County, the “County Defendants”), alleging constitutional and civil rights violations related to his treatment and arrest.

         The County Defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and no genuine issues of material fact remain. See ECF No. 109 (“Motion”). For the reasons detailed below, the Court GRANTS the County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


         The following facts are undisputed and are principally drawn from parties' concise statements of facts (“CSFs”) and the evidentiary exhibits attached thereto.

         I. Plaintiff and Defendant Jelsma

         Plaintiff is a retired police officer who retired in good standing from the force in August 2016, after serving with the HCPD for twenty-six years. See Pl.'s CSF, ECF No. 120, ¶¶ 21, 23. As a result of his service, Plaintiff is considered a “qualified retired law enforcement officer” as that term is defined under 18 U.S.C. § 926C (“LEOSA”). See Ex. 2 to Pl.'s CSF, ECF No. 120-3 (LEOSA identification card); Ex. F to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-7 (same). Defendant Jelsma is a major in the HCPD. At the time of the events at issue in this case, he was a captain.

         Plaintiff and Defendant Jelsma have a long history as colleagues since the 1990s. According to Plaintiff, Captain Jelsma has harbored a personal grudge against Plaintiff stemming from several incidents over the years. See Compl. ¶ 77.

         II. The Events of January 26, 2017

         On January 26, 2017, at around 7:30 a.m., Plaintiff left his home in Hakalau on the Big Island. Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110, ¶ 1. He got into his truck and began driving towards Puna, apparently with no destination in mind. Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 2-4. When he set out that morning, Plaintiff had two loaded firearms in his truck: (1) a 9mm handgun in a worn leather holster underneath his driver-side seat and (2) a 12-gauge shotgun in a soft case in the cab of his truck. Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 5-6, 12.

         A few hours into his drive, around 10:00 a.m., Plaintiff encountered one of his son's coworkers, Nathan Figueroa at the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision. Defs.' CSF ¶ 7. An altercation followed. Initially, Plaintiff asked Figueroa if his first name was “Nathan”-which is indeed Figueroa's first name-and Figueroa apparently did not recognize Plaintiff. It is alleged that Plaintiff displayed his firearms and said to Figueroa, “I going put one bullet in your fucken head first.” Defs.' CSF ¶ 7; see also Ex. C to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-4, at 2 (Plaintiff's HCPD complaint testimony). According to Figueroa, Plaintiff made several statements directed toward Figueroa, including “you don't know who you are fucking with, you fucking with the wrong people and you better have an army because I do.” Ex. D to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-5, ¶ 5 (Figueroa declaration). Figueroa also states that Plaintiff said he would put a bullet in Figueroa's head and that, after asking if Figueroa had kids and cared about his parents, Plaintiff said “if anything happens to [Plaintiff's] son, it would fall back on [Figueroa].” Ex. D to Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 4-9. Plaintiff left the scene without police having been notified, but Figueroa later reported the incident to police, which eventually resulted in Plaintiff's arrest later that day. See Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 7-9, 19; Ex. 6 to Pl.'s CSF, ECF No. 120-15, at 19. After he reported the incident, Figueroa told Detective Kelii that “at first, he felt threatened by [Plaintiff]'s actions, ” but he ultimately realized Plaintiff was not mad at him, but rather at another individual, Wesley “Mana” Brooks.[1]Plaintiff ultimately left the scene without incident or arrest.[2]See Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 7-9.

         A short time after the exchange with Figueroa, Plaintiff parked his truck at 3rd Avenue near Maku`u Drive in Hawaiian Paradise Park. Defs.' CSF ¶ 9; Pl.'s CSF § 9. There, he called 9-1-1 and reported that gunshots had been fired. Pl.'s CSF ¶¶ 32-33; Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 9-10; see also Ex. B to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-3, at 15. Plaintiff's call was apparently made in connection with a different confrontation than the earlier encounter with Figueroa-this later one was with Brooks and another individual (Lopez). Defs.' CSF ¶ 10; Pl.'s CSF ¶ 10; see also Pl.'s Opp. 17-18 (distinguishing the Figueroa dispute from the encounter with Brooks). When police officers arrived on the scene in response to Plaintiff's call, the officers requested and Plaintiff allowed them to search his truck. Defs.' CSF ¶ 11; Pl.'s CSF ¶ 11. In their search, the officers recovered the two firearms. Defs.' CSF ¶ 12; Pl.'s CSF ¶ 12.

         A short time after Plaintiff called 9-1-1, Defendant Jelsma arrived at the scene. Pl.'s CSF ¶ 34. According to Plaintiff, he presented to the officers (including Defendant Jelsma) at the time of the search an HCPD identification card, which had his picture identifying him as a retired law enforcement officer on one side and stated the following on the reverse side:

This card is for identification purposes only, pursuant to 18 United Stated [sic] code & 926C(d), Carrying of Concealed Firearms by Qualified Retired Law Enforcement Officers. This identification DOES NOT perm[i]t the holder to carry a concealed firearm pursuant to 18 United States Code & 926C and in of itself is not inte[n]ded to comply with or be applicable to State statutes and administrative rules governing identification for the purpose of carrying a concealed and/or unconcealed firearm.

Ex. F to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-7 (the “ID Card”); Ex. 2 to Pl.'s CSF (same); see also Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 13-14; Pl.'s CSF ¶¶ 13-14. Although Plaintiff now seems to dispute this fact, the evidence shows that he did not present any other certifications or identification, including a “Firearms Qualification Card” qualifying him to carry and use the specified firearms.[3] See Pl.'s CSF ¶ 15.

         Regardless of whether Plaintiff presented his Firearms Qualification Card to Captain Jelsma or any other officers that day, Plaintiff had a current certification (issued on February 19, 2016) qualifying him to use and carry a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun bearing serial number RS01242Y. Defs.' CSF ¶ 17; see also Ex. H to Defs.' CSF and Ex. 4 to Pl.'s CSF. See Defs.' CSF ¶¶ 16-18; see also Exs. G & H to Defs.' CSF, ECF Nos. 110-8 & 110-9, and Exs. 4 & 5 to Pl.'s CSF, ECF Nos. 120-5 & 120-6 (qualifications cards). Plaintiff also had an expired certification issued on December 24, 2015, which qualified Plaintiff to use and carry four firearms.[4] Defs.' CSF ¶ 16; see also Ex. G to Defs.' CSF.

         Defendant Jelsma, who had arrived at the scene, instructed Plaintiff to drive himself to the police station to speak with Criminal Investigation Division (“CID”) personal and allow them to take Plaintiff's statement. See Pl.'s CSF ¶ 39; Ex. E to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-6, ¶ 10. Sometime after Plaintiff left the scene to drive to the police station, Defendant Jelsma received a call advising him of the earlier incident involving Plaintiff and Figueroa. Id. ¶ 11. When Defendant Jelsma arrived at the police station, he spoke with the responding officer who advised that Plaintiff had threatened to shoot and kill Figueroa during that prior incident. Id.

         III. Plaintiff's Arrest

         Shortly after Plaintiff had returned to the police station around 11:00 a.m., Plaintiff was told that the CID had taken over the investigation of Plaintiff. Pl.'s CSF ¶ 43. A few hours later, around 3:05 p.m., Plaintiff was arrested and charged with six firearms violations, as well as three counts of terroristic threatening related to the initial confrontation with Figueroa. Defs.' CSF ¶ 19; Pl.'s CSF ¶¶ 49-51; see also Ex. B to Defs.' CSF at 65:1-4; Ex. E to Defs.' CSF § 12.

         Plaintiff was ultimately indicted on February 21, 2019, for charges based on firearms violations and terroristic threatening in connection with the incident involving Figueroa. Pl.'s CSF ¶ 61.

         IV. Subsequent Media Statements

         After Plaintiff's arrest, the County Defendants issued two media releases about Plaintiff's arrest and charges. Ex. L to Defs.' CSF, ECF No. 110-13. The first, issued on same day as the incident, read in relevant part as follows:

HPD Investigating ‘Shots Fired' Report in Puna
Hawai`i Island police are investigating a firearms incident initially reported as “gunshots fired” in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision in lower Puna. Responding officers contacted a group of individuals near the area where the shots were reported, although the preliminary investigation has thus far indicated that no shots were fired. Detectives assigned to the Criminal Investigations Section are continuing the investigation.

Ex. L to Defs.' CSF. The second, which the Defendants issued the next day, stated the following:

Hakalau Man Arrested for Firearms, Terroristic Threatening
East Hawai`i detectives arrested a 50-year-old Hakalau man late Thursday afternoon, Jan. 26, as part of their investigation into a firearms incident earlier in the day in Puna.
John Rodrigues Jr. was arrested on suspicion of three counts of first-degree terroristic threatening and six firearms violations. After conferring with prosecutors, police released Rodrigues pending further investigation.
The incident was initially reported as “gunshots fired” in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision in lower Puna at approximately 10 a.m. Responding officers contacted a group of individuals near where the shots were reported and were able to determine that no shots had been fired, although firearms were involved in a confrontation.
Detectives assigned to the Criminal Investigations Section are continuing the investigation[.]

Ex. L to Defs.' CSF.

         V. HCPD Policy

         HCPD has an explicit policy that requires its officers to “strictly observe all laws, policies and procedures prescribed by the . . . United States Constitution, Hawai`i Revised Statutes and judicial rulings.” Defs.' CSF ¶ 20.

         With respect to LEOSA, the evidence does not show any HCPD training policy specifically concerning the statute or its application by state law enforcement officers. Pl.'s CSF ¶ 62. However, the Department of the Attorney General (the “AG”) and the County have a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) concerning LEOSA, the purpose of which is to “clarify and agree to the role of the AG regarding implementing the statewide standards for the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act as codified at 18 U.S.C. § 926C (LEOSA), pertaining only to the section which allows retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm provided certain qualifications are met.” Ex. 12 to Pl.'s CSF, ECF No. 120-20. The MOU gives the AG the statutory authority to regulate firearms in Hawai`i and provides that the firearm certification program under LEOSA is under the final authority of the AG. Id.


         One year after the January 26, 2017 events took place, Plaintiff filed an eight-count complaint in state court against the County Defendants and against Doe Persons 1-10, Doe Corporations 1-10, Roe “Non-Profit” Corporations 1-10, and Roe Governmental Entities 1-10. ECF No. 1-2. The County Defendants removed the case, ECF No. 1, to federal court shortly thereafter and then moved to dismiss, ECF No. 5, which the Court granted, ECF No. 14. After Plaintiff filed the First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 16, the County Defendants again moved to dismiss, ECF No. 17, and the Court again dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims without prejudice, ECF No. 27. Plaintiff filed the Second Amended Complaint on December 19, 2018. ECF No. 29.

         The parties later sought to stipulate to dismiss two counts from the Second Amended Complaint, which the Court disallowed pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See ECF No. 60. Following several months of discovery and attempts by Plaintiff to stay the case pending disposition of parallel criminal proceedings against him, Plaintiff filed the now-operative Third Amended Complaint. ECF No. 95. The Third Amended Complaint alleges seven counts: (I) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) by Captain Jelsma; (II) violation of § 1983 by the County; (III) false arrest/false imprisonment; (IV) defamation per se; (V) defamation per quod; (VI) false light; and (VII) negligent investigation.

         Now before the Court is the County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 109, filed on October 22, 2019. Plaintiff filed his Opposition on November 26 and the County Defendants filed a Reply on December 2. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on Tuesday, December 17, 2019.


         Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 56(a) mandates summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex ...

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