The Honolulu police officer who forced a homeless man to choose between arrest or licking a public urinal pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges Monday.
John Rabago, a longtime veteran of the police department, was arrested in April, according to the Honolulu Star. but he had long denied allegations that he mistreated Samuel Ingall, a homeless person, when he was called to respond to a potential trespassing incident at a public restroom in January 2018.
Rabago now admits that when he arrived to the restroom that day, Ingall was allegedly uncooperative and pleaded that he’d do anything to not get arrested. Rabago then told Ingall that he’d have to lick a urinal to be left alone. (Rabago initially maintained this was a joke.)
Ingall, however, reluctantly complied with Rabago’s demands, and didn’t report the incident to police. His family members told Hawaii News Now that Ingall also alleged he was forced to sit in urine before officers forced his head into a toilet.
Another responding officer later flagged the incident for review, triggering an FBI investigation, according to Hawaii News Now . Rabago’s partner, Reginald Ramones, was also charged with civil rights offenses in connection to the incident, and both officers were placed on unpaid leave. Two other officers involved with the case were also placed on restricted duty.
Ramones, who has since left the police department, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in September relating to failing to report the civil rights violation against Ingall, and subsequently agreed to testify against Rabago. Ramones told authorities the threat against Ingall was real, that Rabago found it humorous, and that Ingall only reluctantly licked the urinal after he was coerced into it.
Furthermore, Ramones told investigators that Rabago wanted him to lie about the incident — and apparently that wasn’t even the first time Ramones had seen Rabago harassing a homeless person.
In part, that testimony is what led to Rabago to plead guilty Monday. His attorney, Megan Kau, told the Associated Press this month that Rabago was ready to accept responsibility. (Kau did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment.) Both men are scheduled to be sentenced in February, and Rabago could face up to 10 years in prison.
Thanks in part to rising housing costs and low wages, homelessness has long been an issue on the island of Oahu. According to the city’s data, nearly 4,500 slept on the streets or in shelters this year, and the unsheltered homeless population has increased 12% since 2018. Honolulu has dealt with this problem, in part, by sweeping homeless encampments or blocking off public spaces at night.
Cover: In this Thursday, June 11, 2015 photo, homeless people and their tents line a canal in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz)