The Hawaii Supreme Court has thrown out the sexual assault conviction of a wrestling coach accused of inappropriately touching the buttocks of a 14-year-old female wrestler at a tournament in 2012 in a case that could have lasting effects.
In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that Keith T. Matsumoto didn’t get a fair trial because a Honolulu police detective used coercion in pushing him to confess, falsely claiming that Matsumoto did not pass a polygraph test and telling him “we know you did it.”
The court also found that jurors should have been told that a body part, such as the buttocks, “which might be sexual or intimate in one context might not be in another.”
Matsumoto, who was state coordinator for wrestling for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association at the time, already has served six months in jail and five years of probation, with conditions including registering as a sex offender and “never being involved in youth sports again.”
The Supreme Court’s decision returns the case to Circuit Court as if the conviction never happened. Matsumoto has been removed from the sex offender registry. A spokeswoman for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney said that no decision has been made on whether to pursue another trial.
“He’s looking forward to the day when this is finally over,” David Hayakawa, Matsumoto’s attorney, said Wednesday. “He has nothing but positive wishes for the complaining witness and the complaining witness’s family.”
Matsumoto was arrested at the Aloha State Games wrestling tournament at Farrington High School on June 9, 2012, based on allegations that he had slapped and grabbed the girl’s buttocks with both hands while she was coaching a friend during a match. He had gone to the tournament with his daughter, a wrestler, to volunteer.
He was charged with third-degree sexual assault and found guilty at trial in Circuit Court in February 2014 and sentenced in June 2014. He appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals and ultimately the Supreme Court.
The high court vacated, or set aside, Matsumoto’s conviction and sentence Oct. 29 in an opinion penned by Associate Justice Richard Pollack. The justices remanded the case to Circuit Court for “further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The case sheds rare light on polygraph testing, which is not admissible at trial in Hawaii, and the impact of being informed of false results.
After his arrest, Matsumoto was held overnight and interrogated by police over two days. He volunteered to take a lie detector test.
In pressuring him to confess, Detective Allan Kuaana told Matsumoto that he had not passed what he described as a “pass/fail” polygraph test, when in fact the results were inconclusive, the court found. He also told Matsumoto “there was no doubt that the allegations against him were true,” despite inconsistent police reports.
“Det. Kuaana used deliberate deception when interrogating Matsumoto,” the court wrote, that was “coercive per se” because the statements were “extrinsic to the facts of the alleged offense” and “reasonably likely to procure an untrue statement or to influence an accused to make a confession regardless of guilt.”
The court cited research showing that being given counterfeit polygraph results can alter people’s beliefs, behaviors, emotional states, self-assessment and memories for observed and experienced events.
“Extensive scientific literature and numerous documented cases have demonstrated the coercive nature of falsified polygraph test results,” it wrote. “They can change a suspect’s beliefs, pressure a suspect to confess and even cause the suspect to believe they committed the crime when they did not.”
“Falsified polygraph results are geared towards making the suspect believe in one’s own guilt or believing that the officer will not stop the interrogation until the suspect confesses guilt.”
Matsumoto testified that he did not recall touching the girl, but based on Kuaana’s claims about the strength of the case, he began to doubt his memory and acknowledged that he might have done so. He characterized it as a “good-job pat on the butt and not a grab as alleged.”
Matsumoto also said Kuaana suggested during interrogation that the case might not proceed if he “gave the police something, apologized and quit coaching.”
“This was a perfect storm of misleading statements and pressure that the Supreme Court said cannot be allowed because it was likely to produce a false confession,” said Hayakawa, the defense attorney. “Not only did they mislead him in a way that as a matter of law was likely to produce a false confession, but he was not allowed to explain to the jury what had happened, not allowed to even use the word ‘polygraph.’”
Hayakawa stressed that he has “the utmost respect” for the work done by the HPD sex crimes team and detectives of the polygraph staff.
“In fairness to the detective, he did follow the procedures that he believed were proper at the time,” Hayakawa added. “Fortunately, the Supreme Court has now made clear what the proper procedures should be. Nobody had ever seen these polygraph procedures because it was never litigated.”
The Supreme Court also found that the instructions to the jury regarding sexual contact were flawed and misstated the law by describing the buttocks as an intimate body part regardless of context. It cited a case, State v. Silver, that gave examples of contact, such as an adult carrying a child or a congratulatory pat on the buttocks by a youth coach, that do not necessarily have a sexual connotation.
The complaining witness in the wrestling case said it was not a “good job”-type pat on her backside.