John Rabago is a police officer from Hawaii who was sentenced to four years in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to forcing a homeless man to lick a urinal in 2018.
Rabago and second officer, Reginald Ramones, initially pleaded not guilty to charges that they violated the man’s civil rights. That changed late last year, however, with Ramones pleading guilty in September and Rabago changing his plea in December, according to court documents.
Rabago pleaded guilty to conspiracy against rights and deprivation of rights under law, and told U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi in a letter that what he did was “uncharacteristic and unprofessional.” He said he will “forever regret” that day, according to the letter.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Officers Were Responding to a Trespassing Call When They Encountered Sam Ingalls & Told Him That If He Licked a Public Urinal They Would Not Arrest Him
According to court documents, Rabago and Ramones encountered Ingalls, who was homeless at the time, in a Honolulu public restroom on Jan. 28, 2018. Ramones told Ingalls that they were going to arrest him if he did not lick the urinal. Ingalls initially refused, but after the two officers intimidated him, he gave in, according to the court documents.
Ramones stood by in the doorway at first, then closed it so no one would see what was going on, the documents allege. Ingalss’ family initially said that Ramones and Rabago also forced him to sit in a puddle of urine and held his head underwater in a toilet, Heavy reported.
Ramones and Rabago were both arrested in April 2019, USA Today reported. Rabago’s attorney, Megan Kau, initially said that the incident never happened, and that the allegations came from a joke or misunderstanding over the phone.
“Something that started as a joke or a miscomment was turned into a federal case,” she told the outlet. “We plan on going to trial immediately because I don’t believe that this complainant is credible.”
Rabago Changed His Plea to Guilty in December, After Ramones Already Pleaded Guilty & Testified Against Him
After Ramones changed his plea to guilty last September, he told prosecutors that he initially thought Rabago was joking, but that after he helped him mistreat Ingalls in the restroom, he helped cover it up, the Washington Post reported. Ramones claimed his partner told him to delete any text messages discussing the incident and coached him on what to say to investigators.
“Rabago coached me on what to say to authorities to make it falsely appear that Rabago had been joking when he talked about making [Ingalls] lick the urinal,” Ramones said at a September 2019 hearing, according to the transcript.
Ramones added that at one point he told Rabago that he could be facing a felony charge because he didn’t cooperate with the investigation. Rabago said, “Good,” according to the transcript.
About two months later, Rabago also changed his plea, copping to both felonies.
In a Letter to the Judge, Rabago Said There Was ‘No Excuse’ for His Actions & He ‘Got Lost Along the Way’ During His Law Enforcement Career
In a lengthy letter to the judge reviewed by Heavy, Rabago painted himself as a dedicated, 16-year veteran of the police department who made a bad judgment call.
“My conduct was uncharacteristic, unprofessional and went against everything I took an oath to uphold,” Rabago wrote. “The choice I made was one that I will forever regret …Despite an individual’s social status, I firmly believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. I unfortunately failed to act on this belief when engaging with the victim. I have replayed this day over and over again in my mind, and know in that moment there were so many other right ways to handle this, and I can now only say that I wish I would have chosen another way.”
Rabago added that he was fully prepared to accept the consequences of his actions.
He told Judge Kobayashi about helping elderly women cross the street and going into a burning building to rescue several residents — something he was awarded a medal for.
“To have the world in my hands and then have it torn apart in the blink of an eye because of my actions has been a humbling experience,” he wrote. “I have been reminded of what was instilled in me from a very young
age: Treat others as you want to be treated.”
At his sentencing Wednesday, Kobayashi told Rabago that he had stolen Ingalls’ “only possession” — his dignity. She also asked him to imagine an officer doing that to one of his children, the Associated Press reported.
He was sentenced to four years in prison, the outlet reported. Ramones is expected to be sentenced sometime next week.
Ingalls has a lawsuit pending against the city, according to a report in the Star Advertiser. Heavy reached out to Ingalls’ attorney, Myles Breiner, for comment but had not heard back as of Thursday evening.