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Nanakuli, Oahu beachgoers called police after a man appeared to be getting too close to a monk seal lying on the shore. The man, Jamie Kalani Rice, claims he was praying and chanting next to the seal. Honolulu Police Officer Ming Wang responded to the scene, and while the words exchanged between the two are unintelligible, video of the incident shows Rice walking away from the seal and retrieving his belongings as Wang follows and proceeds to pepper spray Rice and beat him to the ground with a baton.
Rice sued Wang and the HPD, and received a $30,000 settlement last week.
The Hawaiian monk seal is an endangered species. Found nowhere else in the world, latest population estimates indicate around 1,400 monk seals in existence, just 300 in the Main Hawaiian Islands. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association points out, federal laws prohibit anyone from the "taking" of Hawaiian monk seals and define taking as hunting, killing, capturing, injuring, harassing, pursuing, or disturbing a marine mammal.
It was NOAA volunteers that contacted police after seeing Rice approach the seal at Nanakuli, and recorded Rice's interaction with the seal and with Officer Wang. The video, below, shows Rice kneeling near the seal (apparently within a roped-off area around the seal) and rubbing sand between his hands and on his chest and arms. The seal appears to move away from Rice a few times and Rice slides closer to the seal on several occasions:
The video also shows Wang approach Rice and begin talking. The exact words are not clear from the video, but Wang almost immediately takes out and extends his baton, while also repeatedly shaking a canister of pepper spray. Rice stands up and walks away with Wang behind. After Rice picks up a bag and some belongings, Wang jumps in front of Rice, pepper sprays him, and begins to beat him with the baton.
Rice sued Wang and the City of Honolulu, claiming multiple civil rights violations along with negligence, assault, and infliction of emotional distress. Rather than litigate the case, the city offered a $30,000 settlement, which still requires City Council approval to be finalized.