New police commissioner wants board to investigate embattled police chief

New Honolulu police commissioner has plan to investigate embattled police chief
Published: Aug. 3, 2016 at 7:46 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 4, 2016 at 2:51 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Newly-confirmed Honolulu police commissioner Loretta Sheehan says she wants the body to investigate mounting allegations against embattled Police Chief Louis Kealoha immediately.

"We do need to start investigating and we need to start doing it now," Sheehan said, at her City Council confirmation hearing Wednesday morning.

It's tough talk from a new member joining a commission that's been criticized for not doing enough to deal with the ongoing federal investigation into Kealoha.

For about a year, a grand jury has been meeting to hear evidence against Kealoha, who is accused of public corruption by the FBI. A special prosecutor from the San Diego office has been flying down a few days every month for the proceedings and numerous witnesses have been called to testify, many of them police officers.

"I am deeply concerned.  He has lost public trust," Sheehan told council members.

Sheehan says the board can launch its own case and not interfere with the federal grand jury.

She says she will discuss her plan with board Chairman Ron Taketa.

"The chair can actually appoint two people, from the commission, to go out do their own investigation and provided that the report is brought back to the police commission and given in a public forum, that's acceptable under our Sunshine laws," she said.

City Council members, including Brandon Elefante, gave glowing endorsements of Sheehan, a former city and federal Prosecutor and long-time domestic violence victim's advocate.

"The women's legislative caucus would like to see her appointment," Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine said, "There are a lot of things going on in our police department that are deeply concerning to our constituents."

Sheehan was ultimately confirmed by an 8-1 vote.

The only objection came from Councilman Trevor Ozawa, who was not happy that he wasn't able to meet privately with Sheehan since her appointment by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in June.

Ozawa says Sheehan stood him up for a meeting where he wanted to discuss her plan. Sheehan says she wasn't aware of a meeting with Ozawa and apologized if she missed one.

Ozawa is also concerned that her goals are not realistic given the current charter.  But Ozawa did acknowledge that if proposed changes to the charter commission pass, then Sheehan's plan would be acceptable.

Only the commission can force the chief out of his position, the mayor and others maintain.

Kealoha has declined to step down during the federal investigation and the current commission has taken a wait-and-see approach, saying that if indictments are handed down then they will act.

But Sheehan says the police board can't wait any longer.

"We are required, under the charter, to evaluate the chief of police at least annually," she said. "There's nothing stopping us from doing it twice a year, three times a year, four times a year. There's nothing preventing us right now from going out and asking intelligent questions, nothing."

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