Police commission chair unclear if panel can place embattled police chief on leave

Police commission chair unclear if panel can place embattled police chief on leave
Published: Oct. 13, 2015 at 9:30 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 13, 2015 at 9:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Commission is trying to figure if it has the legal authority to put Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha on paid leave while he's under federal investigation.

Police officers who asked not to be identified told Hawaii News Now on Tuesday that the commission needs to put Kealoha on leave with pay while the FBI and a federal grand jury investigate him and his wife.

Officers said that's only fair. Officers are routinely placed on paid leave with their arrest powers, badge and gun removed while under investigation.

A special federal prosecutor has been brought in from the mainland to oversee the case into whether Kealoha and his wife Katherine -- a top city prosecutor -- conspired to frame her uncle in the theft of a mailbox from their home.

But sources said the federal criminal probe has widened to look into corruption at the Honolulu Police Department.

The police commission will discuss Kealoha's status in executive session next Wednesday.

While the commission has the power to hire and fire the police chief, Chairman Ron Taketa said this situation is "unprecedented," and it is "unclear" if the commission can place the chief on leave during an investigation.

Taketa said the commission would discuss its authority and options with a city attorney behind closed doors at its meeting Oct 21.

"The commission has the power to hire and fire and being on paid leave is certainly a less serious move than firing someone," said City Council member Ann Kobayashi.

"The police commission has to keep in mind that we cannot lose confidence and trust in the police department," Kobayashi added.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell's managing director, Roy Amemiya, would not offer an opinion on whether the mayor wants Kealoha to be put on leave now that there's a federal criminal probe.

In a statement, Amemiya said, "The administration supports the (ethics and police) commissions conducting their reviews without influence by public officials in order to be fair to all parties involved."

The City Charter does not specifically say the commission can put a police chief on temporary leave.

"The chief may be removed by the police commission only for cause," the charter says. "Gross or continuous maladministration shall be a cause sufficient for removal of the chief."

For months, police officers have been questioned by the city Ethics Commission in a separate investigation. Now some of those same officers and others are expected to be subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the months ahead.

Last month, the Kealohas sued the Ethics Commission, asking a judge to stop the ethics probe and force the commission to provide the original ethics complaint against them as well as the investigative file in the case.

They filed the Circuit Court lawsuit as Doe and Roe to protect their "privacy interest," but sources identified the Kealohas as the plaintiffs.

Louis Kealoha has repeatedly denied overstepping his authority.

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