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

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


Capitol computer system links aren’t working, ACLU suggests private prisons improperly extend sentences to increase profits

Comment on ilind.net

Check out SB 2534 which addresses delayed release on bail for those persons held at places like OCCC and MCCC due to our courts being closed and no agency willing to accept bail. These cumulative days of detention for those persons already determined bailable and who want to bail out cost money too. SB 2534 attempts to fix this but take note of the Corrections Division testimony against SB 2534 and against any relief or speeding up of bail release. Read about how persons at OCCC cannot even pay their own bail without the third party going to the court house and back. And if you go to Honolulu district court the fiscal cashier hands the person paying the bail a paper with phone numbers on it requiring them to phone OCCC to obtain the needed police report numbers as a condition of paying the fiscal officer the bail money. Anyone ever tried phoning an ACO at OCCC for information lately while standing in the courthouse hallway? I have. Why the court would require a person paying bail to do more than pay the money is perplexing and SB 2534 address this issue. After all the correction division holds persons in custody by order of the court and not vice-versa. Yet, Honolulu district court wants persons paying cash bail to tell them why they are paying bail instead of the court telling the person paying bail how much money they need to pay for a bail release at OCCC. In other words, zero coordination between Honolulu district court and OCCC. Any person wanting to bail a person out of OCCC on a minor traffic ticket from Eva Court, Kaneohe Court or Honolulu District Court will like SB 2534 because it tells OCCC to provide a means for inmates that have the money to pay their own bail. Hopefully OCCC will tell the pretrial defendant how much money they need to pay to bail out and won’t make them call the court….

Fraud conviction reported (again)

The Star-Advertiser reported today on Big Island resident Eric Lighter’s conviction on federal wire fraud and related charges. It’s a “premium” story, meaning you can’t read it without a subscription. You would think that means the story has some special value.

Problem #1: He was convicted on December 20, almost two weeks ago, making it rather old news.

Problem #2: The Star-Advertiser already reported an AP version of the same story it the “breaking news” section on December 22.

Problem #3: The Star-Advertiser’s December 22 and January 2 stories both appear to be based on the same government press release without additional reporting.

Problem #4: You wouldn’t know, from the S-A story, that the Star-Bulletin archives contain some detailed reporting on earlier cases of fraud involving Lighter.

Admittedly, I’ve got a personal interest here because I recognized long ago that Lighter was a world-class con artist and his schemes worth reporting on.

So even though it’s a legal holiday, and the end of a long holiday weekend, I still hope to get more than rewritten press releases from our daily newspaper.

But it is what it is.

via Fraud conviction reported (again).

Excellent free resources available on Hawaii’s sunshine and public records laws

If you’re interested in Hawaii’s public records law and sunshine law, the Office of Information Practices currently has links to a number of very useful publications that are being used in their workshops for public officials and attorneys.

If you are at all concerned about public access and open government, you need to check these out.

These materials can be accessed from the “What’s New” page on the OIP website.

There’s a new publication, Agenda Guidance for Sunshine Law Boards, which lays out how agendas are supposed to be developed and posted.

There are is a guide to the Uniform Information Practices Act, our public records law, as well as a sunshine guide for state and county boards, both very useful.

A UIPA Powerpoint presentation used in one workshop is also available, along with a few additional goodies, including an outline for their presentation, “Ethical Considerations for Counsel When Advising Sunshine Law Boards.”

via ilind.net