State briefs for July 23

Ex-officer who didn’t report urinal incident sentenced

HONOLULU — A former Honolulu police officer was sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation for failing to report a fellow officer who forced a homeless man to lick a public urinal.

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Reginald Ramones resigned from the Honolulu Police Department before pleading guilty last year to knowing that John Rabago, who also left the force, committed a civil rights violation but didn’t inform authorities.

Rabago was sentenced last week to four years in prison.

The two officers responded to a nuisance complaint in 2018 when they found the homeless man in a stall in a public restroom.

Ramones didn’t intervene when Rabago forced the man to lick the urinal. Ramones didn’t report Rabago’s actions and deleted text messages between the two officers, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi said.

But Kobayashi said Ramones later took responsibility and cooperated with prosecutors, which prompted Rabago to plead guilty to depriving the man of his civil rights.

Ramones apologized to the victim and said he’s ashamed and remorseful.

“I failed him,” Ramones said. “I took an oath to serve and protect, which I did not uphold.”

Officials close bar accused of ignoring virus rules

HONOLULU — A Honolulu bar was closed after officials said it repeatedly failed to comply with COVID-19 regulations.

The Honolulu Liquor Commission on Tuesday shut down Tapas Restaurant &Wine Bar in Honolulu for 24 hours after investigators discovered Saturday night that the bar was crowded with “absolutely no social distancing occurring,” according to a statement from the commission.

Inspectors received a tip from a person who called a 24-hour complaint line set up to report potential public health violations, the statement said.

Most of the bar’s 120 or so patrons were not wearing masks when inspectors visited.

The event marked the second time the Liquor Commission closed a bar accused of skirting coronavirus-related regulations. Cafe Gangnam in Honolulu was shut down earlier.

Bars were allowed to reopen June 19 in Honolulu. They are required to ensure 6 feet of social distancing between patrons, use less than half of their maximum occupancy and require patrons to wear masks.

Bars are also not allowed to sell alcohol following a July 14 decree by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“It is in everyone’s best interest to reduce the spread of this virus,” Caldwell said in a statement.

Bioenergy plant backers protest ban on construction

HONOLULU — Supporters of the Honua Ola Bioenergy company had a rally Monday in an attempt to ward off an order that could permanently stop construction of the firm’s long-delayed power plant.

About 100 people protested the Public Utilities Commission decision that construction of the Big Island plant was not in the economic interest of Hawaii’s public and could harm the environment.

The company’s supporters and employees argued that the decision could leave more than 60 people out of work.

More than $350 million was dedicated to the plant’s construction and the facility is 99% completed, the company said.

The commission approved provisions in 2017 that would have approved the power plant’s full construction. But the Life of the Land environmental group challenged the commission’s decision, saying it violated state law by not explicitly considering its obligation to reduce Hawaii’s greenhouse gas emissions before approving the agreement.

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In May 2019, the state Supreme Court agreed, retroactively rejecting the commission’s approval for the plant and forcing the commission to reexamine the case. The commission eventually rejected the deal July 9.

Honua Ola asked the commission to reconsider its decision.

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