Honolulu Police Commission says it lacks 'evidence' to put police chief on leave

Published: Oct. 21, 2015 at 7:12 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 22, 2015 at 1:52 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha will remain on the job because his bosses at the Honolulu Police Commission cannot verify what Hawaii News Now first reported almost two weeks ago: that there's a full-fledged federal criminal investigation targeting him and his wife.

A criminal justice expert said the commission should try harder to get to the truth and the lawyer who took first allegations of police wrongdoing to the FBI said he has not heard from the Police Commission.

Some Honolulu police officers who spoke anonymously said they are demoralized and upset that the Police Commission was unable to verify that there's a federal investigation targeting the police chief.

Officers feel there's a double-standard, since any of them would immediately be put on paid leave if they were under federal criminal investigation.

The Police Commissioners have not been able to confirm what sources have told Hawaii News Now: that Kealoha and his wife Katherine -- a top ranking prosecutor -- are the focus of an FBI probe looking at whether they tried to frame her uncle in a bogus mailbox theft and got police officers to help in the frame job.

"We have no evidence or information that the FBI is conducting an investigation," said Police Commission Chair Ron Taketa after emerging from a closed-door executive session meeting with commissioners Wednesday.  "There are some rumors that there's an inquiry.  And at this point in time, there's no basis at all for the commission to consider any type of administrative leave or disciplinary action at all."

Sources have told Hawaii News Now that Michael Wheat -- a special federal prosecutor from San Diego -- has been brought in to coordinate the case against Kealoha and that a federal grand jury will begin hearing testimony next month.

But Taketa said media reports are not reason enough to put Kealoha on paid leave.

"We cannot discipline somebody based on no facts at all.  We need some basis to do that," Taketa said.

Taketa said the local FBI office will not confirm or deny any investigation is going on and Kealoha told the commission he has "no information to indicate he is being investigated."  Law enforcement sources said the FBI almost never confirms an investigation and certainly never notifies a potential target until they are arrested or indicted with a crime.

Just one member of the public, Waikiki resident Nancy Manali-Leonardo, testified before commissioners went behind closed doors to discuss Kealoha's situation and two pending complaints against other police officers during its meeting Wednesday afternoon at HPD headquarters.

Manali-Leonardo told them: "What's going on now with our police chief, that has got to stop.  We need a new police chief.  We need better organization in this police force."

At Remington College Wednesday night, criminal justice students discussed the Police Commission's decision with their instructor, a former Miami and Bay Area policeman who's now a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii writing his dissertation on HPD oversight and accountability.

"In this case, the chief is really the criminal defendant and so we really do have to protect his rights as well as the rights of the community," said Aaron Hunger, who spent 18 years as a law enforcement officer. "This is the quagmire that the commission finds itself in."

Hunger said it may have been a mistake for the commission not to investigate charges against the chief on its own late last year, when allegations of police wrongdoing first surfaced.

"It doesn't seem like they've been very aggressive trying to get the information, when the public seems to have it as common knowledge for almost a year now that this has been an ongoing investigation," Hunger said.

Alexander Silvert is the first deputy public defender who first claimed the Kealohas faked a mailbox theft case against his client, Katherine Kealoha's uncle, late last year.  Silvert took evidence of what he said was HPD wrongdoing to the FBI in December 2014.

Wednesday afternoon, Silvert told Hawaii News Now: "No one from the Police Commission has contacted me to discuss the evidence I uncovered."

The police chief did not attend Wednesday's Police Commission meeting because he is out of town, in Chicago attending a police chiefs' conference.  He's expected to return to work next week, an HPD spokeswoman said.

Kealoha has declined to comment on the federal probe. He told an internal HPD command meeting of police brass last week that he has done nothing wrong.

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