State Supreme Court to decide if police misconduct records are public

State Supreme Court to decide if police misconduct records are public

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Assault, theft, lying on police reports -- all crimes Honolulu police officers were disciplined for last year.

But details of those crimes are not made public. And now the Hawaii State Supreme Court is deciding whether that should change.

One of the most high-profile misconduct cases recently has involved Honolulu Police Sgt. Darren Cachola. Cachola was caught on surveillance video fighting with his girlfriend last year. He was never arrested or charged. Sources tell Hawaii News Now that he is being fired. But if he gets his job back, the public won't know because Hawaii law doesn't require those records to be released.

Former prosecutor Catherine Betts, who is now with the State Commission for the Status of Women, says victims need that to change.

"It's especially important for survivors of domestic violence to have access to that information," She says a victim should be allowed to research the officers who responded to her calls for help to see if a similar case is in their past, even if that information doesn't arrive until days after her incident.

"I've seen women's cases not go forward based on what the officer writes in the report or doesn't write in the report (so) that kind of information is crucial."

Defense attorneys also think the information is needed to providing their clients with a fair trial.

"When a person is accused of a criminal offense one of the things they're entitled to is materials that would help them and help their defense attorney," says Kevin O'Grady, who specializes in DUI cases, "Part of that material is things that are in the officer's past that may make the officer less credible."

He has a few clients who were arrested by an HPD officer who was charged with lying on a DUI report.  The officer pleaded 'no contest' and was granted deferred acceptance.

O'Grady believes information about that case would be important in defending people arrested by that officer.

"They have a lot of interaction with citizens and so people always want to know how the police are operating," says Attorney Brian Black with the Civil Beat Law Center.  The Law Center challenged the practice of withholding officer's disciplinary files and the case is now with Hawaii State Supreme Court.

"They are citizens within our society that have the ability to use force against other citizens and when you give someone that amount of power you need to be able to review their conduct," says Black.

Many other states and counties provide internal affairs files as soon as officers are simply accused of misconduct.  And some jurisdictions provide it anytime, even without an accusation.  But here in Hawaii, laws protect those records so they don't have to be released until a final termination, not just the termination before appeals. That could take years.

"We don't want to have a police force that people don't trust," says State Senator Will Espero, who is part of the Public Safety Committee.  He is also working on legislation to increase transparency.

Currently, HPD only reports disciplinary information to lawmakers once a year.   The information is put together on one long chart and details allegations and penalties, but the names the officers involved are excluded.

Other Hawaii counties have been much more forthcoming with information.  Kauai, the Big Island, even Maui police recently starting moving toward providing more access.

MPD's chief notified the media about the arrest of two of his officers last month.  It was unsolicited information that MPD Chief Tivoli Faaumu detailed in an online video and press release which was accompanied by mugshots and background information on the officers.  Many are calling this move by Maui's Chief, refreshing.

Law enforcement instructor and former police officer Aaron Hunger says the move created a gap between the accused officers and the other officers who work hard, do their job and serve the public.

"We all know that the majority of our law enforcement officers are law abiding and professionals," says Espero, "However when you have a handful make the news it certainly does injustice to the rest of the department."

It's important to note, that HPD is not fighting the case currently at the State Supreme Court.   HPD submitted a statement of 'no position'.  Only SHOPO, the police union is, is arguing against the release of records.  SHOPO did not return our requests for comment.

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