Dispute over Kauai police chief discipline goes to high court

Dispute over Kauai police chief discipline goes to high court
Kauai police vehicles. File Image.
Kauai police vehicles. File Image.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Arguments were heard Wednesday before Hawaii's second-highest court over who had the power to suspend Kauai's police chief in a case that has implications for police departments across the state.

The Kauai Police Commission is appealing a Circuit Court ruling that found Kauai's mayor had the power to put the police chief on leave with pay.

Police departments and the commissions that oversee them are watching the Intermediate Court of Appeals to see what it decides in this case. It's especially relevant to Honolulu's Police Commission, which is deciding whether to put Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha on paid leave, since he's under federal criminal investigation.

The Kauai case started in February of 2012, when Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho suspended Police Chief Darryl Perry for insubordination over his handling of a police officer's hostile workplace complaint.

On Wednesday, both sides argued their case before the Intermediate Court of Appeals, with the police commission saying that since it has the power to hire and fire the police chief only the commission can suspend him.

"It's important because we want to make sure that the politics stays out of the operations of the police department," said Kauai Police Commission Chair Ernie Kanekoa.

Carvalho, who was at the high court in Honolulu to watch arguments Wednesday, said, "As mayor, I also have the responsibility for the daily operations over all departments."

Carvalho's attorney said a Kauai Circuit Court judge was correct when he ruled that the mayor has the authority to suspend or discipline the police chief.

But a justice on the appeals court asked a key question.

"Doesn't what you propose completely undermine the commission's clear expressed authority under the charter?" asked Intermediate Court of Appeals Justice Katherine Leonard.

Wendell Fuji, attorney for Carvalho, told the court, "The mayor's power to supervise and the powers that are given to the mayor includes the power to suspend and otherwise discipline. Because the police department and all the other departments are under the purview of the mayor."

A lawyer for the Kauai Police Commission, Corlis Chang, read from the 1967 minutes of the Kauai Charter Commission, which she said backed up her argument that only the commission can discipline the chief.

"The police should not be considered as part of administrative departments, but as law enforcement and utility bodies under the complete control of the commissions," Chang read to the court.

Perry, who was also in court watching arguments Wednesday, said he looks forward to the high court decision, which might not come for several months.

"It'll give us an opportunity to have guidance, not only for the police commissioners but for the police chiefs and also for the mayor, so they know where their limits are," Perry said.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.