Embattled HPD Chief Kealoha agrees to retire amid FBI investigation

Published: Jan. 6, 2017 at 5:56 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 6, 2017 at 8:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following pressure from the city's police commission, embattled Police Chief Kealoha agreed to retire Friday rather than be forced out.

The decision ends the police career for a chief who was once considered a rising star, but who has been embroiled for more than a year in an ongoing public corruption case. Kealoha was on put on paid leave last month after receiving a "target letter" from federal prosecutors in connection with the case.

Max Sword, chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission, announced the chief's decision Friday after the commission met to discuss it.

"At this point, I'd like to thank the chief for his many years of service -- I believe it's over 30 years of service -- and we wish him well on his retirement," Sword said, adding that the decision will be finalized at the body's meeting on Jan. 18.

Kealoha's attorney, Myles Breiner, said the chief made the decision to retire "reluctantly."

"He did it for the city and county, and he did it for his family," he said.

Breiner added the investigation involving Kealoha and others in the department was affecting HPD.

"The average officer on the street starts to wonder, 'Wm I under scrutiny? Am I going to get called?' it interferes overall with the functioning of the department. It undermines the morale. And the chief realized that."

Mayor Kirk Caldwell, meanwhile, said in a statement that the commission "made the right decision to accept Chief Kealoha's retirement, and he made the correct decision for the sake of the police department and the thousands of officers who serve with integrity, respect and fairness."

Kealoha had been the city's highest-ranking police official since November 2009, and his tenure has been marked by highs and lows.

Police union President Tenari Maafala said he hopes nothing will come of the federal investigation.

"He's our chief, we hate to see our chief leave under these terms," Maafala said. "Behind every badge is a human being."

"There is no one above what the department represents, whether it's Chief Kealoha, Deputy Chief or Acting Chief Cary Okimoto. The department will always be there. There is no one man or woman that's above what HPD represents," said Maafala.

At a police commission meeting Wednesday, members spent more than two hours in executive session discussing the chief's fate, and emerged without making a decision. It was the first time the commission had met since the chief went on leave last month.

The commission did say, however, that they had placed Kealoha on "indefinite leave."

The announcement on Kealoha's decision to retire was made shortly after the police commission met in a closed-door executive session Friday.

Kealoha, police sources say, was asked to resign after the commission meeting Wednesday. Had he refused, according to sources, he would have been fired during Friday's closed-door executive session.

Kealoha and several other officers received target letters in the days following the guilty plea of former police officer Niall Silva, sources say. Target letters are sent to the subjects of FBI probes to inform them that they are the "target" of an investigation and that their cooperation is being sought.

"Issuing a target letter does not constitute an accusation that you're guilty of anything. It means simply, we're investigating. We want to talk to you.' And that's it," said Breiner.

Silva, 52, pleaded guilty to lying under oath as part of a conspiracy to frame a relative of Kealoha's wife, Katherine, a high-ranking deputy city prosecutor, in the theft of the mailbox from the Kealohas' home.

Silva was a detective in the Honolulu Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Unit in June 2013 when Katherine Kealoha called police to report her mailbox had been stolen from her Kahala home.

She later identified the suspect as her uncle, Gerard Puana, with whom she was involved in a family financial dispute over hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said she could tell it was Puana based on poor-quality surveillance video from the house security system.

The issuance of a target letter to HPD's chief comes more than a year after the FBI investigation into the Kealohas started.

Since 1932, when businessman Charles F. Weeber was appointed the city's first police chief, no sitting chief of police has officially been asked to resign by the city's police commission.

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