The Honolulu Police Department opened an internal investigation Wednesday into allegations that an officer wrongfully arrested a vacationing lesbian couple after seeing them kissing in a grocery store.
The investigation was announced after the two women, Courtney Wilson and Taylor Guerrero, who were visiting Hawaii from Los Angeles in March, said in a federal lawsuit (PDF) filed Tuesday that they were harassed and arrested because the officer, Bobby Harrison, didn't like their public displays of affection in a Foodland store on Oahu's North Shore.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and states that Harrison was motivated by his hostility toward gay people. The lawsuit also names the city and county of Honolulu as a defendant.
In 2013, Hawaii became the 15th state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage.
According to the lawsuit, Wilson and Guerrero were walking through the store holding hands and at one point hugged and kissed. Harrison, who was shopping in uniform, "observed their consensual romantic contact and, in a loud voice, ordered plaintiffs to stop and 'take it somewhere else,'" the lawsuit said
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.
While the women were in the checkout line, Harrison grabbed Wilson by the wrist, and she started to call 911, she said.
When Guerrero tried to get in between them, he shoved her. She kicked him as she fell, she said.
Because Harrison didn't have handcuffs on him, store employees helped restrain the women as customers watched.
Police earlier told The Associated Press that they couldn't comment on pending litigation, then later said they opened the internal probe.
Police department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said she would pass a message to Harrison's commander seeking comment from the officer. Harrison, a 26-year veteran, remains on full active duty.
Foodland, which is not part of the lawsuit, apologized to the women, said their Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz. A Foodland spokeswoman didn't 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 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 eventually dismissed, Seitz said.
In the meantime, they had to stay with family friends or strangers they befriended. At one point they thought they would have to go to a homeless shelter. They found jobs cleaning vacation rentals.
The incident took place on the second day of their vacation, which was their first trip to Hawaii.
In 2013 a lesbian couple from Long Beach, California, won an anti-discrimination suit (PDF) against the owner of a Honolulu bed and breakfast who declined to rent a room to them over the course of several phone calls, eventually citing religious objections, according to SFGate.com
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press