A former Honolulu police officer will spend up to four years behind bars after forcing a homeless man to lick a public urinal, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
John Rabago, 44, was sentenced in a Hawaii courtroom after pleading guilty to two civil rights violations in connection with the incident, which happened two years ago.
Rabago and another officer were responding to a nuisance call when they found the victim, Samuel Ingall, 37, in the stall of a public bathroom. Rabago forced Ingall to his knees and held him down until he licked one of the public urinals, the judge said. He also threatened to beat the victim and stuff his head in a toilet if he refused to comply, the judge said.
“I’m here to judge you on the worst thing you’ve done in your life,” U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi said at the sentencing hearing. She scolded the former police officer at length, saying that he disregarded his oath to protect and defend by shaming a poor and defenceless victim.
“You took from him his only possession: his dignity as a human being,” Kobayashi said. She also urged Rabago to think about how he would feel if someone had done the same thing to one of his daughters, aged 10 and 8.
She also said that Rabago later told the other officer to delete text messages about the incident.
Rabago’s attorney, Megan Kau, said she expected a sentence of three years. She suggested after the trial that the judge’s decision may have been swayed by anti-police sentiment following the death of George Floyd.
“I think she’s taking the national environment and making him an example,” Kau said. She also pointed out that Rabago is Filipino-American, while the victim was white. “This is not the same,” she said.
Ingall filed a lawsuit against the Honolulu Police Department and the city earlier this year in connection with the incident.
Ingall was “pleasantly surprised” by Rabago’s sentence, according to his lawyer, Myles Breiner.
“He was under the impression that they would coddle him and give him a minimum term, a very low sentence,” Breiner said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady said Rabago was sometimes a good cop, and that he ultimately admitted to his misdeeds. However, Brady also pointed out that Rabago initially laughed at the incident and later denied that it had happened.
“To be homeless, not knowing where your next meal is going to be, to be forced to lick … a dirty urinal by a uniformed police officer. There’s only one word that comes to mind: hopelessness,” Brady said.
“The defendant’s egregious conduct in this case is out-of-step with the tremendous work performed by police officers every day in Honolulu,” U.S. Attorney Kenji Price told Hawaii News Now.
Reginald Ramones, who was the officer with Rabago at the time, is scheduled to be sentenced next week. He has pleaded guilty to knowing Rabago committed a civil rights violation and not informing authorities about it.
Both men are no longer with the Honolulu Police Department.
—With files from The Associated Press