A Groton, Connecticut woman says a public kiss in paradise landed her and her girlfriend in a Hawaiian jail and now they have filed a lawsuit, claiming the arresting officer harassed and assaulted them because they're gay.
All charges against Courtney Wilson, 25, of Groton, and her girlfriend, Taylor Guerrero Wilson have been dropped, but they filed a federal lawsuit last Tuesday claiming they were arrested while vacationing in Hawaii in March because their public displays of affection were between two women.
The Honolulu Police Department opened an internal investigation last Wednesday into allegations that an officer wrongfully arrested the vacationing lesbian couple after seeing them kissing in a Foodland store on Oahu's North Shore.
They were walking through the aisles holding hands and at one point hugged and kissed, the lawsuit said. Officer Bobby Harrison, who was off-duty but shopping in uniform, "observed their consensual romantic contact and, in a loud voice," ordered them 'take it somewhere else,'" according to the lawsuit.
Guerrero told KHNL that Harrison told them "you girls, you girls can't do that in here" while they were holding hands and she was kissing Wilson's cheek.
"We were just shocked that it all happened," Wilson told KHNL.
The women complied and continued shopping, the lawsuit said. When Harrison again saw them being affectionate with each other, he threatened to have them thrown out of the store.
"We're used to people making remarks here and there," Wilson said of their two-year relationship.
While the women were in the check-out line, Harrison grabbed Wilson by the wrist. She called 911.
"Being confused to exactly what we did and how that was just I called police myself," Wilson told KHNL.
"He was bumping his belly against Courtney," Guerrero said. "He said, 'you girls don't know how to act. You don't know the difference between a motel and a grocery store.'"
When Guerrero tried to get in between her girlfriend and the officer, he shoved her. She kicked him as she was falling, she said.
"The whole situation got physical," Wilson said. "I got punched in the face by him."
Because Harrison didn't have any handcuffs on him, store employees helped restrain the women, as customers watched. "You can't really blame them for not getting involved," Wilson said of the bystanders.
Police earlier told The Associated Press that they couldn't comment on pending litigation, then later said they had opened the internal probe. Police department spokeswoman Michelle Yu previously said she would pass a message seeking comment from Harrison, a 26-year veteran, to his commander. As of last week, he remained on full active duty. Foodland, which is not part of the lawsuit, apologized to the women, their Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz previously said. A Foodland spokeswoman didn't previously respond to requests for comment.
The women were arrested and charged with felony assault on an officer. They spent three days in jail and each paid a bail bondsman $1,300 for bail that was set at $12,000 each, they said. They had to remain in Honolulu as a condition of their release.
The charges were dismissed five months later.
In the meantime, they had to stay with family friends or strangers they befriended. At one point thought they would have to go to a homeless shelter. They found jobs cleaning vacation rentals.
The incident happened on the second day of their vacation, which was their first trip to Hawaii.
The women are seeking punitive damages and reimbursement for all costs incurred, claiming they were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.
"I just think that what he (the officer) did was absolutely wrong without a doubt," Wilson told KHNL. "I just really want an example to be made.