Lawyer: Police commission 'derelict' in handling police chief case

Lawyer: Police commission 'derelict' in handling police chief case
Published: Oct. 23, 2015 at 9:01 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2015 at 5:09 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The criminal defense lawyer who blew the whistle on alleged wrongdoing at the Honolulu Police Department, leading to a federal criminal probe targeting the police chief and his wife, said he has "lost confidence" in the Honolulu Police Commission.

On Wednesday, the Honolulu Police Commission said it's been unable to verify Hawaii News Now's reports that Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine – a high-ranking city prosecutor -- are under a federal criminal probe.

Commission Chair Ron Taketa said the FBI refused to confirm or deny the probe, and Kealoha has told the commission doesn't know anything about it.

"If that's all they've done, then I really think they're being derelict in their duties," said Alexander Silvert, the assistant federal public defender who complained that the chief and his wife violated his client's civil rights when they allegedly framed him in a mailbox theft case that was dismissed from federal court in December.

"Obviously, the FBI's not going to confirm or deny an investigation. I do criminal law. They don't tell my clients they're investigating them, that just doesn't happen," Silvert said.

Silvert said no one from the police commission has contacted him to ask him questions in the 10 months since he went public with allegations of police wrongdoing. In December 2014, Silvert spoke to the U.S. Attorney's office in Honolulu, which referred the case to the FBI to investigate.

"Given their (the police commission's) conduct since December of 2014, I've lost confidence that they are an independent and neutral oversight committee that would take the information and do anything with it," Silvert said.

He said if the commission contacted him now, he would refuse to speak to them.

"Given that they have three investigators and they can speak to police officers and they have direct access to certain information that they should use those tools and exercise that authority to find out what's happening, I don't believe they've really done that," Silvert said.

Silvert said there's a bigger issue: Public confidence in the police force and the chief of police.

"That's an issue where you don't need an indictment, you don't need charges, you just have to figure out and realize is there a loss of confidence, why is there a loss of confidence, and is it affecting the effective administration of justice in the Police Department?" Silvert said.

On Wednesday, after the commission discussed Kealoha's situation behind closed doors, Taketa told reporters: "There's no reason to believe that the public should not have any confidence in police service at this point."

"As far as the commission can tell, and he reports to us on a regular basis, he is operating very effectively.  The commission does not have any concerns that the department is functioning well," Taketa added.

Silvert said the City Charter needs to be changed to improve the police commission.

"There has to be some fundamental changes in how the Police Commission is selected.  The qualifications of people for that committee and how they're selected and who selects them," Silvert said.

Right now, the mayor selects police commissioners and the Council approves them. Silvert said an independent board should select commissioners.

None of the seven volunteer members of the commission has any professional law enforcement or legal experience. Silvert said people who have worked in law enforcement and criminal justice field must be on the board, as is the case in some other cities, such as New York.

"It can be several people from the community at large, but there has to be a basis and has to be knowledge on the board of people who have worked in this field before so they know what questions to ask, they know what issues to look at," Silvert said.

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