Police investigate media leaks linked to deadly Marco Polo blaze

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The chief of the Honolulu Fire Department filed a police report to try and find out who leaked a confidential HFD document related to the massive Marco Polo blaze, Hawaii News Now has learned.

The document, a log of dispatch calls during the fire response, included confidential access codes to the Kapiolani Boulevard building.

It was leaked to a Honolulu media organization. Hawaii News Now did not receive or report on the leaked document.

Sources say Fire Chief Manuel Neves complained that release of the document violated Hawaii's open records law, which includes criminal penalties for those who intentionally release confidential government documents.

And the chief's criminal complaint thrusts the Honolulu Police Department into an ongoing battle between HFD executives and the firefighters union over the department's response to the Marco Polo fire, which killed three people on July 14 and damaged scores of units.

Firefighters and their union have complained that the administration did not follow established policies as personnel battled the five-alarm fire.

Among the complaints — that the assistant chief of operations did not show up at the scene and that the Mobile Command Center was delayed.

On Wednesday, union President Bobby Lee called the chief's police complaint "an intimidation tactic" meant to keep firefighters silent.

"It's a move to kind of instill fear in our members. That's how I view this. To get them to not speak to the media or not talk to anybody, almost to the extent of cover-up and hide information," said Lee. "So I really don't see what the issues are, the public has a right to know how the fire department operates."

Meanwhile, Neves told police that he was willing to prosecute a firefighter who apparently provided that document, according to sources.

State public records law states it could be a misdemeanor crime.

However, open records advocates say a leak to the media has never been prosecuted before.

"Under the public records law, there's nothing that says that it's illegal to provide information. Our public records law says that all government records are open. But there are certain things that government officials are allowed to withhold under certain circumstances. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they couldn't disclose it if they wanted to," said Civil Beat Law Center for the public interest Executive Director Brian Black.

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