A lesbian couple is suing the Honolulu Police Department and Officer Bobby Harrison, claiming he assaulted and then arrested them because he saw them kissing in an Oahu grocery store.
Taylor Guerrero and Courtney Wilson, of Los Angeles, were on vacation in Hawaii in March 2015 when the incident occurred, Hawaii News Now reports. Wilson, 25, and Guerrero, 21, were charged with first-degree assault on a police officer. Wilson was also charged with criminal property damage. The charges were dropped five months later.
Harrison was off duty at the time of the incident. The federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday. Guerrero said the officer began harassing her and Wilson after he saw their public displays of affection at Foodland Pupukea.
“We were holding hands and I was kissing her cheek,” Guerrero told reporters Wednesday. “He was like you girls, you girls can’t do that in here.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Harrison Allegedly Told the Couple to ‘Take It Somewhere Else’
The incident occurred on March 3 when Taylor Guerrero and Courtney Wilson went to the Foodland Pupukea to get something to eat, according to the lawsuit (which you can read above). Harrison was also in the store shopping. He was off-duty, but was in his uniform.
The couple’s attorney, Eric Seitz, writes in the lawsuit that Guerrero and Wilson were holding hands and at one point stopped, hugged and kissed, while shopping. Harrison saw the “consensual romantic contact,” and said in a loud voice, “take it somewhere else,” the lawsuit states.
Guerrero and Wilson then left the area and continued shopping outside the view of Harrison. They said he later saw them “engaged in similar consensual contact,” and again ordered them to stop, threatening to have them thrown out of the store. The couple claims Harrison then found the store’s manager and “encouraged” the manager to issue written trespass warnings to them, ordering them to leave and not return.
While Guerrero and Wilson were in the checkout line, Harrison again confronted them, they claim in the lawsuit. He told them the store was going to issue them a written trespass notice, and told them to step out of line. Wilson said she took out her cell phone and called 911 after “voicing her displeasure” about Harrison’s conduct.
Wilson claims Harrison then stopped her from leaving the store and seized her phone, not allowing her to complete the 911 call.
The lawsuit accuses Harrison of being motivated by “invidious discriminatory animus toward gay/same-sex couples.”
2. Wilson Says She Was ‘Punched in the Face’ During the Altercation With the Officer
After Harrison took the cell phone from Wilson, Guerrero tried to move in between the two, according to the lawsuit.
Guerrero told Yahoo News the officer, “was bumping his belly against Courtney, and told them “you girls don’t know how to act. You don’t know the difference between a motel and a grocery store.”
The couple claims Harrison “threw” Guerrero to the ground and struck Wilson in the process. He then placed both in restraints.
“I got punched in the face by him,” Wilson told reporters. “I split my nose open. We were on the ground.”
They were then held at the store by Harrison.
“They took us down to the basement of Foodland where they continued to harass us about our conduct in the store, asking us if it was worth it, if we were happy where we are,” Wilson said. “We were just shocked that it all happened.”
Wilson also claims she was denied medical treatment at the scene and after she was arrested. The couple was held in jail for three days and then were ordered to stay in Hawaii. The charges were not dropped until five months after the incident.
According to the Associated Press, they stayed with family friends or strangers they had befriended while they were forced to remain in Hawaii. The couple also spent some time sleeping in a park and at one point thought they would have to go to a homeless shelter. They found jobs cleaning vacation rentals, they told the AP.
3. Wilson & Guerrero Say They Want ‘an Example to be Made’
Wilson and Guerrero have asked for a jury trial. They are seeking damages and reimbursement of their costs, according to the lawsuit.
“I really just want an example to be made, despite whatever happens,” Wilson told reporters, according to KHON-TV. “I just think what he did was absolutely wrong, without a doubt. If this can help anybody in the future stand up for what’s right.”
They say in the lawsuit they never provoked Harrison to touch them, and allege he “committed an assault and battery,” upon them, causing injuries. They also claim they were discriminated against based on their sexual orientation in violation of the rights to equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and Hawaii law.
The couple also claims in the lawsuit that Harrison was acting as a Honolulu police officer, despite being off duty.
4. Harrison Has Been a Honolulu Police Officer for 26 Years
Officer Bobby Harrison has been with the Honolulu Police Department for 26 years, the department said.
He is stationed in Wahiawa.
An internal investigation has been opened, police told Hawaii News Now. The department would not say if Harrison has been placed on restricted duty or leave, or if he remains on normal duty. A spokeswoman said she could not comment further about pending litigation.
5. The Couple’s Attorney Says Foodland’s Surveillance Video Has Disappeared
The couple’s attorney, Eric Seitz, told KHON-TV he reached out to Foodland, and the company told him the surveillance video that captured the incident has disappeared.
Foodland has declined to comment about the incident.