Council panel votes to settle lawsuits tied to disgraced ex-MPD officer Brandon Saffeels
A Maui County Council committee on Tuesday unanimously recommended settlements in two lawsuits that allege the County of Maui failed to train and supervise a former Maui police officer who was fired, and convicted in one case, for attempting to trade police help for sexual favors.
Ronda Smythe and Liana P. Kanno filed one civil suit, and Alisha N.K. Constantino filed the other civil suit. Both 2021 lawsuits allege the county violated state law and the US Constitution by failing to properly train and monitor Maui Police officer Brandon Charles Saffeels.
Constantino made an initial settlement demand of $400,000. Smythe and Kanno have not yet made a settlement demand but have estimated damages for emotional distress in initial disclosures at $182,000 each, Deputy Corporation Counsel Keola Whittaker said during the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee meeting.
The proposed settlement amounts were not disclosed in open session.
In 2019, following complaints made by several women, Saffeels was investigated, fired and arrested.
He pleaded guilty in 2021 to a bribery scheme in which he solicited a sexual relationship with a female motorist in exchange for suppressing evidence. He had arrested the woman for DUI after a crash, according to the indictment.
Saffeels, 37, is currently serving a 30-month sentence in federal prison for that scheme.
He also was arrested for soliciting sex from a 13-year-old girl in 2021. He pleaded guilty to that charge in April and awaits sentencing on Sept. 7.
The county does not represent Saffeels because he committed an illegal act outside of the scope of his police duties, Whittaker said.
The Maui County Council committee voted 7-0 to recommend a resolution that would give the administration authority to settle. Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura and Council Chairwoman Alice Lee were absent and excused. The resolution will now be considered by full council.
Over the past decade, the county has records of about five Maui police officers who have been disciplined for actions relating to sexual harassment. Some of the incidents occurred when the officer was off duty. All five were terminated, Whittaker said.
During the committee meeting, Maui Police Assistant Chief Gregg Okamoto said that although the incidents involving Saffeels occurred under the former administration, the police department is continually working to improve training and oversight of officers.
“You bring up great ideas as far as public messaging, education. In fact, all the council members brought up good concerns and points,” Okomoto said. “This administration is very open to improving and trying to better our services.”
In response to council member questions about how the public can make complaints against police officers, especially in situations where individuals may fear retaliation, Okamoto and Whittaker offered a handful of options.
Complaints may be filed with MPD’s Internal Affairs section, but they cannot be anonymous due to police union rules that require notarization. The Maui Police Commission accepts complaints via a form that is posted on its website. Also, members of the public may go to the county prosecutor’s office or speak to the US attorney. If it rises to a federal crime, the FBI takes complaints.