HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an unusual if not unprecedented move, Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha has sued the city Ethics Commission, trying to get a court to stop an ethics probe targeting him and his wife.
For at least six months, the Ethics Commission has been investigating Kealoha and his wife Katherine, a top attorney in the city prosecutor's office. The commission is looking into whether the chief abused his power in a police probe of his wife's uncle, who they accused of stealing a mailbox from their home.
In an unusual move, HPD assigned a homicide detective to handle the mailbox case and specialized police units performed surveillance and later arrested the uncle. The case was later dismissed in federal court.
Using the pseudonym Doe and Roe to protect their "privacy interest," the Kealohas filed the lawsuit in Circuit Court on Sept. 4, asking a judge to stop the city ethics investigation.
Their suit said the city has "wrongfully refused" to provide them with a copy of the "initiating information and/or other information upon which the investigation is/was based," as well as investigative information and materials obtained in its ethics probe.
The lawsuit claimed both Ethics Commission Director Chuck Totto and the investigator who handled the case, retired HPD Captain Letha DeCaires, are "not qualified" to investigate them, partly because of what the suit claims is an unspecified "conflict of interest." The lawsuit misspelled DeCaires' last name as "DeCaries."
The Kealohas claimed the commission's secrecy is inhibiting them from mounting a defense against the allegations.
The lawsuit goes on to say the Kealohas' "ability to properly and fully investigate and respond to the allegations, prepare a defense, all while being required to provide voluminous information, have been severely handicapped by not being informed of the allegations to which they are expected to respond."
At a rally against domestic violence Thursday, Hawaii News Now tried to ask Kealoha if he and his wife filed the lawsuit, and he said, "That's no ... No comment."
University of Hawaii law professor Kenneth Lawson said the Kealohas' suit is meant to intimidate potential witnesses and investigators.
"I think this is just another tactic to try to fend off an investigation," Lawson said. "It's not an uncommon tactic to say I'm gonna go on the offensive. The best defense is an offense. OK, so now I'm going to accuse you of being unfair to divert the attention away from me."
The Kealohas' attorney did not return a phone message Thursday and the Ethics Commission declined comment.
In a second lawsuit filed July 8, Katherine Kealoha, using the fictitious name "public servant," sued the Ethics Commission, trying to get a judge to force the commission to provide her a copy of the ethics complaint against her. That lawsuit was later withdrawn.
The ethics case is the least of the Kealohas' concerns, since the FBI is also investigating the police chief's potential abuse of power in what could become a federal criminal probe.
To see the lawsuit, click here.