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Lawsuit filed by Samoan over alleged civil rights infractions dismissed without prejudice

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A federal judge in Honolulu has “dismissed without prejudice” many of the claims in a civil rights lawsuit, brought by a Samoan man, whose murder conviction by a state court was overturned by Hawaii’s highest court after finding the Honolulu Police Department  (HPD) as well as current and former senior HPD officers in violation of his civil rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson’s 45-page decision issued Sept. 02, also allows plaintiff, Iosefa Pasene, the opportunity to file a new amended complaint, which the court says must be a new pleading.

As previously reported by Samoa News, Pasene was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison and he spent over ten and half years imprisoned “for a crime that he did not commit” — which is the Mar. 28, 2009 murder of Joseph Peneueta.

In October last year, Pasene — currently living in California and representing himself — filed the lawsuit alleging that plaintiff’s wrongful conviction was the result of serious misconduct by HPD officers investigating the Peneueta shooting. The complaint alleges that HPD defendants manipulated witnesses — Richard Tagataese, Gabriel Sakaria and Cedro Muna — into misidentifying Pasene as the shooter.

The defendants filed their responses early this year to dismiss the lawsuit — for among other things — failure to state a claim. And the federal court agreed, in part.

According to federal court documents, Pasene’s lawsuit centers on six counts against HPD defendants including deprivation of liberty without due process of law in violation of right to a fair trial under the Fourteenth Amendment; and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and Civil rights conspiracy against all individual Defendants

In his decision, Judge Watson, addressed in details each of the plaintiff’s claims, followed by the decision of the court. For example, he noted that Counts 1 to 5 against the individual defendants in their individual capacities are dismissed because “group pleading” is not permitted.

The judge points to provisions of the federal code, which notes that to properly state a claim, plaintiff must plead facts showing how each of the named defendants “personal[ly] participat[ed] in the alleged rights deprivation.”

“In other words, the plaintiff may not attribute general liability for an alleged wrong to a group of defendants but rather must make ‘individualized’ allegations,” Judge Watson said, noting that Pasene’s complaint “engages in impermissible group pleading” and in his entire complaint, the plaintiff made only six “individualized factual allegations.”

According to the decision Counts 1–5 attribute liability to all “defendants,” without specifying how any particular defendant personally participated.

Thus, all of Pasene’s claims against the individual defendants in their individual capacities “are dismissed without prejudice for failure to plead the claims on an individualized basis.”

Furthermore, the court ruled that most of the claims asserted in Counts 1–5 against the individual Defendants in their individual capacities are also dismissed on grounds of Rule 12(b)(6) and/or qualified immunity.

On the plaintiff’s Malicious Prosecution Claim, the court ruled that Pasene has failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim for malicious prosecution and Watson went on to explain in detail the reason behind this ruling.  Therefore, the claim malicious prosecution was dismissed without prejudice.

Count 6 of plaintiff’s complaint is against the City of County of Honolulu, alleging failure to train, supervise, and/or discipline officers in constitutionally adequate investigation techniques, and identification procedures.

Judge Watson also dismissed without prejudice Count six for failure to state a claim, saying that Pasene “has not provided any facts to support his claims.”

Furthermore, all claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities are “dismissed with prejudice because they are redundant.”

And to the extent that Pasene also intended to assert First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment claims, and any Hawai‘i state law claims, “they are dismissed without prejudice for failure to assert any factual allegations relevant to these claims,” Watson wrote in his decision.

For all claims that are dismissed without prejudice, Watson said Pasene is granted leave to file an amended complaint “in order to cure the defects” as explained in the ruling.

Pasene is given until Sept. 23, 2022 to file an amended complaint and failure to do so by this time frame will result in the automatic dismissal of this action without prejudice and without further notice.

The Court also advises that any amended complaint Pasene submits must stand alone. That is, he may not rely on or incorporate his previous complaint; he must, instead, re-assert any previous allegations and claims in a single, new, comprehensive filing.

“To be clear, upon the filing of any amended complaint, the original Complaint will be treated as if it does not exist for purposes of this litigation,” Judge Watson concluded.

News outlets in Hawaii had reported back in 2009 that Pasene was a member a street gang.

Samoa News wasn’t immediately able to reach the plaintiff for comments, using public records from the court for contact information. And there was no attorney of record, to speak for the plaintiff, since Pasene represented himself in the lawsuit.