Police Commission chair should resign in wake of yesterday’s extraordinary action in federal court

Yesterday’s extraordinary events in Honolulu’s Federal District Court, and the response of the chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission, demonstrated again that “police accountability” is a contradiction in terms here in our fair city.

It’s time for the commission chairman to step down, and for new leadership to shake up the commission and its approach to its duties. The City Council and the mayor also have to be held to account about the sad state of affairs.

Yesterday’s major shock was the decision by federal prosecutors to throw out charges against Gerard Puana, uncle of the wife of Police Chief Louis Kealoha. Puana had been accused of stealing the mailbox from the chief’s former house in Kahala, following an investigation by HPD.

The move, according to news reports, was taken after prosecutors reviewed evidence collected by Puana’s attorney, Alexander Silvert, who has publicly alleged police misconduct in the case.

According to the Star-Advertiser:

Silvert said he met with prosecutors following the mistrial because he and Puana decided to put their faith and trust in the integrity of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We presented our entire case, from top to bottom, to the prosecutors,” Silvert said. He said that included evidence he and investigators from his office uncovered during their own investigation.

Silvert said he also told federal prosecutors what eight of the jurors told him after Kobayashi had discharged them.

“All eight had said to us that after they saw the videotape (of the theft), they had already decided (Puana) was not guilty,” Silvert said.

Here’s the top of the title page from the docket of Puana’s federal court case, stamped simply, “Closed”.

But the story isn’t that simple.

The dismissal is a big deal on its own. But prosecutors went further, dismissing the case “with prejudice,” meaning that charges cannot be refiled, and asking the FBI to review the evidence, presumably to consider whether crimes were committed by police.

According to Hawaii News Now:

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen,” says legal expert Ken Lawson, a University of Hawaii law professor, “The prosecution… not just dismissed it, but dismissed it with prejudice. And ‘with prejudice’ means not only are we dismissing your case, but we’re never bringing it back.”

Lawson is not involved with this federal trial, but has worked many federal cases in various states.

“There’s cause for great concern,” he says, “If I’m the chief of police, I’ve got a lawyer now.”

Prior to yesterday’s dismissal, there was a flurry of communications between prosecutors and attorneys, all of which were sealed and unavailable for public inspection. Click here for a list of documents filed with the court under seal since the December 4, 2014 mistrial, which was caused by Kealoha’s unsolicited disclosure of information about Puana’s history during his trial testimony. Observers say it was a rookie error, and unusual for an experienced police officer.

Instead of expressing concern about the unusual turn of events, which puts HPD in a very bad light, Police Commission Chairman Ron Taketa came out sounding like a spokesman for Chief Kealoha rather than the head of a panel which is supposed to provide independent oversight of the police on behalf of the public.

Without seeing any of the evidence that prompted the about-face by federal prosecutors and another federal investigation of HPD, Taketa used the opportunity to vouch for the chief.

The Star-Advertiser reported:

Police Commission Chairman Taketa said he believes the commission’s hands are tied in making public statements about the mistrial because a federal investigation is underway and because the department has rules about releasing personal information about police employees, including the chief.

And if the chief were found guilty of any wrongdoing, any discipline would likely be confidential because the case is considered a personnel matter.

Taketa added, however, that the commission holds the chief to a higher standard than other city employees and that he has been forthcoming with the commission, alerting it to his family dispute.

“He was honestly sincere about apologizing for what he said,” Taketa said. “He just admitted that it was error and it was spur of the moment and he regretted it.”

He continued: “The mistrial was the furthest thing from his mind as to what he wanted coming out of that trial. There’s actually in my opinion no reason to believe that he would have benefited from a mistrial.”

At minimum, I would have expected someone in Taketa’s position to express serious concern about the extraordinary circumstances and pledge to take action if the evidence, or the FBI probe, reveals departmental misconduct.

Instead, we had the chairman singing the chief’s praises, as if none of the other events of the day had taken place.

Taketa, the financial secretary and business representative for the Hawaii Carpenters Union, was first appointed to the police commission back in about 1990, and served for at least 15 years, and was appointed again in 2011. It would appear that his relationship is far too cozy with HPD to exert any real oversight.

Via ilind.net

The ones that get away

PHILADELPHIA — For a man on the run from charges that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl, Thomas Terlecky has surprisingly little to fear from the law. The police here know exactly where to find him, but they will not go get him.

Terlecky got away by catching a Greyhound bus to Miami.

The police in his new hometown know that Terlecky is a fugitive, and they have tried repeatedly to return him to Philadelphia — both before and after he was convicted of having sex with two other underage girls in Florida. As recently as November, police handcuffed Terlecky and called Philadelphia authorities to tell them their fugitive had been found.

But just like every time before, the authorities in Philadelphia refused to take him back.

Across the United States, police and prosecutors are allowing tens of thousands of wanted felons — including more than 3,300 people accused of sexual assaults, robberies and homicides — to escape justice merely by crossing a state border, a USA TODAY investigation found. Those decisions, almost always made in secret, permit fugitives to go free in communities across the country, leaving their crimes unpunished, their victims outraged and the public at risk.

Each fugitive’s case is chronicled in a confidential FBI database that police use to track outstanding warrants. In 186,873 of those cases, police indicated that they would not spend the time or money to retrieve the fugitive from another state, a process known as extradition. That’s true even if the fugitives are just across a bridge in the state next door. Another 78,878 felony suspects won’t be extradited from anyplace but neighboring states.

Few places are immune. Police in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Little Rock — all among the nation’s highest-crime cities — told the FBI they wouldn’t pursue 90% or more of their felony suspects into other states. Los Angeles police said they would not extradite 77 people for murder or attempted murder, 141 for robbery and 84 for sexual assault.

The FBI refuses to say who or where those fugitives are. But USA TODAY identified thousands of them using records and databases from courts and law enforcement agencies. Among the fugitives police said they would not pursue: a man accused in Collier County, Fla., of hacking his roommate’s neck with a machete during a fight over two cans of beer; a man charged with drawing a gun on a Newport News, Va., store manager during a robbery, and even one of the men Pittsburgh identified as among its “most wanted” fugitives.

Such fugitives should be among the easiest targets in the nation’s fragmented justice system. The police typically don’t hunt them; instead, they wait for officers to come across them again, during traffic stops or when they’re arrested on new charges.

More often than not, the suspects are found locked up in another city’s jail.

But if that jail happens to be in a different state, local law-enforcement officials regularly refuse to get them because they don’t want to pay the cost or jump through the legal hoops required to extradite them. That process can be either swift or surreal: In many cases, it costs no more than a few hundred dollars, but it can also require months of paperwork and the signature of both states’ governors.

The police let them get away instead.

Even Terlecky, wanted in Philadelphia for a first-degree felony, was surprised. “Why would they not extradite on a felony warrant?” he said in an interview. His only guess: “This wasn’t a case where I forcefully grabbed the kid. That’s the only reason I’m thinking why they won’t push to bring me back.”

Thomas Terlecky talks about the charges he’s facing, why he fled Philadelphia, and why officials there won’t take him back.Brad Heath, Jennifer Harnish, Shannon Rae Green, Steve Elfers

Terlecky said that in the 17 years he has been a fugitive, he has lost count of how many times Florida police threw him in jail in hopes of returning him to Pennsylvania. But the arrests all end the same way. In November, Miami-Dade police detained him after he was pulled over for an obscured license plate. A few hours later, Philadelphia officials “asked that (he) be released” because they were unwilling to travel beyond Pennsylvania’s neighboring states to get him, according to police records. An officer drove him home.

Terlecky is wanted on charges that he had what prosecutors called “consensual” sex with a 14-year-old girl in a downtown Philadelphia hotel in 1996, a felony because of her age. He was convicted of having sex with two other girls in Florida — one 14, the other 15 — in the years that followed and is now a registered sex offender. Terlecky said in interviews that he is innocent of the Philadelphia charges, that he fled because he was afraid of being locked up awaiting a trial, and that he would gladly go back if he could be assured that he would not spend time in jail.

Prosecutors said they didn’t chase Terlecky because the woman he is accused of assaulting was uncooperative.

“That’s not true,” the woman said when USA TODAY contacted her this year. She asked not to be identified to protect her privacy.

Her father took her to court on her 15th birthday to testify against Terlecky at a preliminary hearing. “We walked out of there with our heads held high thinking he’s going to jail for what he did to me,” she said. It was the last she heard of the case; she assumed Terlecky was in prison.

Pennsylvania’s Victim Advocate, Jennifer Storm, said victims need to be informed whenever officials choose to let a defendant get away. “It is alarming that there are victims who are further harmed by denying them the opportunity for justice, restitution and safety,” she said.

The woman Terlecky is charged with assaulting said no one told her that he fled Philadelphia or that prosecutors there had decided not to pursue him as long as he stayed in Florida, where he started a general contracting business that he said counts police officers among its customers.

“He got away with it,” she said when she found out. “That makes me sick to my stomach. It’s disgraceful.”

via - www.usatoday.com

Police shootings prompt questions

A spate of police-involved shootings this summer — two of them fatal — has raised questions about procedures and training at the Honolulu Police Department.

“We don’t have the death penalty, so no matter how reprehensible the activity the person is engaging in, we do not summarily execute people,” said University of Hawaii at Manoa criminology professor Meda Chesney-Lind. “The police have to reassure us all that that is not what is happening. We can learn from these incidents so that they won’t be repeated.”

In back-to-back cases a week apart, drivers in their 50s were killed in close range by multiple shots from July 24 to Aug. 6.

In each case, the Honolulu Police Department called the slain men murder suspects. The shooters — police officers — were stopping a threat, they said.

Chesney-Lind and other Honolulu criminology experts are decrying the killings, questioning the police version of events, and calling for more information, openness and accountability from HPD.

When shootings have occurred, top HPD officials have routinely defended the actions of officers — even before internal investigations have begun.

The department has declined numerous requests from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for interviews on the criticisms leveled against it, providing only email responses to some questions about the following three shootings:

» July 24: A police sergeant shot at a man driving a stolen car on Red Hill, but the man got away. Police identified the man a month later as the same man shot and killed by police Aug. 6.

» July 30: A six-year HPD veteran shot and killed Richard Nelson, 52, of Manoa, on Kuhio Avenue. Nelson, drunk at the time, tried to flee in his car and nearly struck the officer who was investigating him for rear-ending a bus.

» Aug. 6: James Koa Pickard Jr., 51, was seated in a stolen car parked at a Pacific Palisades house when three officers approached to arrest him. Police said he drove toward an officer in front, hit a police car, and reversed toward two officers behind. He then drove forward toward one of the officers, and two officers fired seven shots through the side and front windows at Pickard, who died at the scene. The officers have 18, 11 and four years of service, but it’s unclear who fired the shots.

“Our goal is never to have a fatality, but sometimes we are put in situations where we have to use lethal force,” HPD Chief Louis Kealoha said at a news conference following the Pacific Palisades shooting. He warned the public that failure to comply with an officer’s command to stop may place the officer’s life and the community in danger.

Officers are taught to aim for “center mass” (chest area) to stop the threat, he said, calling the use of deadly force in the case appropriate.

An accidental shooting occurred on Aug. 12, just one week after the Pacific Palisades incident when a police lieutenant at a 7-Eleven store in Pearl City approached a stolen car with his gun drawn. The lieutenant was knocked to the ground, and was seriously injured when the driver reversed with his car door open.


The Honolulu Police Department provided the following information: 

» An officer will draw his weapon if he may have to use it.
» An officer may use deadly force to protect his life or the lives of others.
» Under certain circumstances, it may be appropriate for an officer to fire at a fleeing suspect. For example, if the suspect is armed and shooting or otherwise endangering the lives of others.


The gun accidentally discharged. Police later said the officer was dragged and opened an attempted murder investigation. The driver and his passenger fled, and were never caught.

The officer received injuries that were not life-threatening injuries and remains on injured leave.

Are officers trained to get out of the way of a fleeing vehicle? What is the procedure? Those are questions Chesney-Lind said police should have to answer.

“By standing in front of automobiles, that may not be the best way to handle the situation,” she said. “This could either get an officer mowed down by a vehicle or we get officers pulling guns and shooting at people in vehicles.”

Chesney-Lind said criminalizing people killed in police encounters, such as using the term “murder suspect” is verbal gymnastics.

“We don’t have the death penalty for drug offenses or car theft or finding someone in a stolen car,” or just being drunk as in the case of Gregory Gordon, the soldier killed in Waikiki surrounded by police cars in 2013, she said.

Chesney-Lind called for a thorough and public review, and said Honolulu should have an independent review commission.

HPD needs to be answerable to the public and the process should be more transparent, Chesney-Lind said.

In an op-ed piece in the Star-Advertiser on Aug. 17, David Johnson, a UH professor of sociology, said Honolulu police have shot and killed eight people in the last five years (or 1.6 per year), which is, per capita, about double the national average of “justifiable killings” by police.

In 11 years — from 2004 to 2014 — Honolulu police shot and killed 13 people, an average of a little over one a year. This year, two were killed in eight months.

Part of the problem is the department is not providing training in how to handle “in-your-face confrontation,” said Dorothy Goldsborough, who teaches criminology at the UH-Manoa and Chaminade University. Psychological training should be taught in a college environment, she said.

“The chief of police has always wanted to raise the civil service requirement for police officers from a high school to at least an associate’s degree, with specifics on learning community policing,” said Goldsborough, who was a professor to Kealoha.

In the 1930s, she said, “police walked on the street in major cities with no guns, with only billy sticks,” adding, “Now they have to wear a vest to protect themselves from being shot. Something is wrong.”

She blames easy access to guns, including for people with criminal intent.

“(Police) are reacting to a situation because it developed around them,” she said. “He’s fearful, with no psychological, sociological training, and he doesn’t know how to circumvent this kind of situation.”

During a news conference after the Kuhio Avenue shooting, police Maj. Lester Hite, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, said: “It’s a split-second decision. Officers make them all the time. At that time, the officer determined the best choice of action was to fire.”

Police said after every major incident, the details are reviewed to see whether changes should be made to training or in other areas.

Former police officer Aaron Hunger, who says police are taught how to word reports to protect the police department from liability in police shootings by writing: “‘He drove at me, so I shot him five times in the chest,’ rather than, ‘He fled from me, and I shot at him five times in the chest.’”

Hunger, who was a Miami Dade (Fla.) police officer in the 1990s, is a criminal justice instructor at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu. He asked his students which statement best describes a video clip of an officer chasing Nelson in Waikiki before fatally shooting him: 1) The driver appears to be driving at the officer; or 2) The driver appears to be fleeing from the officer.

Of the 32 students, 31 thought the officer’s use of force appeared inappropriate, and that the driver appeared to be fleeing from the officer, not driving at the officer.

That officer was investigating Nelson for rear-ending a bus with his car, and was stopped on Kuhio Avenue when the officer spotted an open liquor container inside and he refused to get out.

Police said Nelson made a U-turn on busy Kuhio Avenue, hitting a tree and nearly striking pedestrians.

The officer pursued him on foot. After again refusing to comply, Nelson reversed his car, and nearly hit the officer, police said. That’s when the officer fired five shots through Nelson’s open window, and struck him in the torso multiple times, apparently at close range.

With no one controlling it, the Jetta sped down Kuhio, losing its engine block and ended up on the sidewalk.

In October 2013, the “driving at police” allegation got a 35-year-old burglary suspect arrested on five counts of first-degree attempted murder for striking and injuring officers in his attempt to flee in a truck stolen from a home near Alvah Scott Elementary School in Aiea. Police shot him, but he survived.

Prosecutors charged the suspect, Amery Kahale-Sugi­mura, with property and drug crimes, but not attempted murder.

The police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of an unarmed African-American teen underscores a soaring trend of violence against the public in police departments across the country, according to Trends Journal publisher Gerald Celente.

A recent analysis in the publication — “Police Violence Against the Public Soars” — outlines incidents where “trigger-happy” cops showed no restraint in using excessive firepower and violence for simple acts like routine traffic stops.

But unlike the Missouri teen shooting, there was no public outcry and no parents who spoke publicly to ask questions about the deaths in Honolulu. The dead men were in their 50s and their parents are either elderly or deceased.

Irmagard Pickard said her family has been reluctant to speak out about the police shooting that killed her son in the Pacific Palisades case, in part because the media had dredged up so much of his criminal past, as far back as nearly 30 years ago.

“We just want to know the name of the police officers (who shot her son),” she said. “Their family and they need prayers also.”

James Pickard left behind a son, three daughters, seven grandchildren, as well as his parents and two sisters.

Police said the man shot at by a police sergeant July 24 in Red Hill fleeing in a stolen car was Pickard, after learning his identity about a month later.

Richard Nelson’s mother, his only living parent, declined to speak with the Star-Advertiser about his death on July 30, when he was shot multiple times by a police officer.

via - www.staradvertiser.com

Locating complaint procedures & info on the HPD website

The actions of the police are very much in the news these days, from the police shooting and subsequent street protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to the recent series of fatal police shootings here in Honolulu.

David Johnson, a UH Professor of Sociology who specializes in the study of criminology, law and social policy, addressed the issue of police accountability in an op-ed which appeared in Sunday’s Star-Advertiser (“Accountability must accompany police power“).

Police in Honolulu have shot and killed eight people in the past five years. This is, per capita, about double the national average of “justifiable killings” by police. As this newspaper has reported, police protocol in lethal force cases is “wholly internal” (“HPD transparency, oversight lacking,” Our View, Aug. 13). The names of officers who use lethal force are not released to the public, and neither are the results of the police department’s own internal investigations — unless someone is fired.

Civil Beat has also reported extensively on the lack of routine accountabilitywhen it comes to Hawaii’s police.

So I wondered whether the Honolulu Police Department provides information to assist someone who wants to file a complaint about a police officer’s actions or report unprofessional behavior.

I turned to the HPD website (http://honolulupd.org/).

It’s a pretty extensive site with lots of diverse information. the site map has more than 50 links to different kinds of information. You can read about the department’s history, get a list of former chiefs, see the patrol districts, learn about each police division, read statistical reports, get information on domestic violence, and read the department’s annual reports. You can get info on the police activities league, get a calendar of police events, learn about the Ride-Along program or the Police Museum, etc., etc.

What you won’t see is a direct link to information on complaints about police officers.

On my second time through the site, you can find the basic complaint procedures if you first click on the link titled simply “FAQ” for “frequently asked questions.”

And there, down at #4 in the list: “How do I file a complaint on an officer.”

A notarized statement is required as part of the police union’s collective bargaining agreement. Links to the forms are listed here under the Professional Standards Office section.

If you wish to remain anonymous, your complaint will be reviewed and/or investigated in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement and departmental policy.

You may mail a notarized statement to the above address or you may appear in person and a statement will be taken by a Professional Standards Office detective and notarized at that time. Be sure to bring a proper identification card (state ID, driver’s license, passport, etc.). [emphasis added]

Information about the Police Commission and its complaint process is also buried. You first have to click a link, “Department,” and then the last of five tabs, “Commission.” Of course, if you didn’t already know that one of the duties of the commission is to investigate charges by the public against the department or any of its officers, then you wouldn’t know that “Commission” would yield useful information.

And when I browsed the commission’s most recent annual report, I found the “Complaint Classification Guidelines,” essentially a list of do’s and don’ts of police behavior.

The report also contains some statistics regarding complaints, but nothing regarding the substance of complaints, even those that have been sustained following an investigation.

As Professor Johnson wrote in his op-ed:

In Hawaii, police accountability is all but absent because the Legislature has caved in to pressure from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), the union that represents the state’s four city and county forces. Public reporting requirements for police in Hawaii are far more limited than those in most states. Under an exemption SHOPO received in 1995, police are merely required to send the Legislature an annual summary of cases in which an officer has been suspended or discharged for misconduct. Each summary is only a few words long, and there are no names, places or dates.

Not a good situation. The police should be accountable, and far more transparent.

Via - www.ilind.net



WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for major changes to the nation’s criminal justice system that would scale back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes, divert people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs and expand a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders.

In remarks prepared for delivery Monday to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said he is mandating a change to Justice Department policy so that low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won’t be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences — a product of the government’s war on drugs in the 1980s — limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences.

Under the altered policy, the attorney general said defendants will instead be charged with offenses for which accompanying sentences “are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”

Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and hold more than 219,000 inmates — with almost half of them serving time for drug-related crimes and many of them with substance use disorders. In addition, 9 million to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year. Holder praised state and local law enforcement officials for already instituting some of the types of changes Holder says must be made at the federal level.

Aggressive enforcement of federal criminal laws is necessary, but “we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” Holder said. “Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”

“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate — not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” said the attorney general.

Holder said mandatory minimum sentences “breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They have had a disabling effect on communities. And they are ultimately counterproductive.”

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have introduced legislation aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimums to certain drug offenders.

Holder said new approaches — which he is calling the “Smart On Crime” initiative — are the result of a Justice Department review he launched early this year.

The attorney general said some issues are best handled at the state or local level and said he has directed federal prosecutors across the country to develop locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not.

“By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime ‘hot spots,’ and pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and fairness — we can become both smarter and tougher on crime,” Holder said.

The attorney general said 17 states have directed money away from prison construction and toward programs and services such as treatment and supervision that are designed to reduce the problem of repeat offenders.

In Kentucky, legislation has reserved prison beds for the most serious offenders and refocused resources on community supervision. The state, Holder said, is projected to reduce its prison population by more than 3,000 over the next 10 years, saving more than $400 million.

He also cited investments in drug treatment in Texas for non-violent offenders and changes to parole policies which he said brought about a reduction in the prison population of more than 5,000 inmates last year. He said similar efforts helped Arkansas reduce its prison population by more than 1,400. He also pointed to Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Hawaii as states that have improved public safety while preserving limited resources.

Holder also said the department is expanding a policy for considering compassionate release for inmates facing extraordinary or compelling circumstances, and who pose no threat to the public. He said the expansion will include elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and who have served significant portions of their sentences.

Via bigstory.ap.org