Spate of complaints, costly suits prompt calls for audit of Public Safety Department

Spate of complaints, costly suits prompt calls for audit of Public Safety Department

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers are calling for an audit of the state Department of Public Safety, following several complaints of discrimination, retaliation and mismanagement at the agency.

State Sen. Karl Rhoads proposed a performance audit of department's leadership, finances, health care and civil rights offices.

He said the review was prompted by a "number of people" who came to him with allegations against the department.

Others agree with the push for an audit.

Kelli Keawe is transgender and received a $50,000 settlement in 2015 after she sued the department, claiming she wasn't allowed to use the female restroom.

As a union shop steward, she said, she handles about 16 complaints per month.

"I feel an audit is overdue because there's too many things doing on," Keawe said.

"I had listened to many complaints by many employees who had been victimized by complaints that were made. They were complaining that it was being squashed."

Other public safety workers who've sued the department and have filed complaints agree an audit is long overdue.

"I would say that anyone out there who feels like they've been wronged or has a complaint or valid complaint should step forward and hopefully this will be the platform for them to do that," said Keiron Pratt, a former deputy sheriff who has sued the department claiming discrimination because he's gay. One lawsuit was dismissed. The second got him a $35,000 settlement. The current lawsuit claims retaliation.

They and others met with Rhoads and other lawmakers to introduce a bill.

"We checked to see when the last performance audit was several years ago in 2010. I felt like the allegations were serious enough that someone should look into them," said Rhoads.

In a statement, the state Department of Public Safety said it would weigh in on the proposal once a hearing on the bill is scheduled.

If passed, the bill would allot $100,000 for the audit.

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