Police commission OKs controversial payout for embattled HPD chief

Police commission OKs controversial payout for embattled HPD chief 10pm Update
Published: Jan. 18, 2017 at 1:19 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2017 at 4:41 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Commission approved a $250,000 payout deal for embattled Police Chief Louis Kealoha on Wednesday. But in an apparent nod to community concerns over the plan, Kealoha will have to pay back the money if he's convicted in an ongoing federal public corruption probe.

Kealoha will get the payout in addition to a pension of about $150,000 a year and free medical care for life.

Commission Chair Max Sword announced the decision after an hours-long meeting behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon.

HPD "has been under a dark cloud for the last two years because of the investigation," he said. "The retirement agreement allows the department to move forward under new leadership and allow HPD to focus on service in the community."

The embattled chief has been on paid leave since December, when the FBI notified him he is under investigation as part of the ongoing federal probe. He will remain on paid leave under March 1, his official date of retirement.

The $250,000 owed to Kealoha under the terms of the agreement will be paid with taxpayer dollars out of the department's operating budget.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell supported the deal Wednesday evening, saying it would allow HPD to move forward.

"Failing to resolve this situation in a timely manner could have resulted in further delays and could have cost the taxpayers even more money," he said. "Like many residents of Honolulu, I'm concerned about the use of taxpayer funds as stated in this agreement, but allowing this situation to linger is not in the best interest of our men and women in blue."

The details of the retirement deal were hammered out during the commission's executive session, and were approved with a 5-to-1 vote.

Caldwell and several members of the Honolulu City Council have previously called for more transparency in the commission's decision-making process, but the body has said that the personnel matter needed to be discussed in private.

Ahead of the decision, legal experts believed the deal may have signified a desire by the commission to avoid a legal battle. Kealoha's attorneys had threatened to sue if the commission tried to terminate him.

A new charter amendment approved by voters in November does make terminating Honolulu's police chief easier, but city lawyers believe Kealoha is grandfathered under the terms of the old charter.

The old charter does allow the Commission to remove Kealoha "for cause," but offers the chief a hearing.

Further complicating matters, there was the issue of whether the chief is entitled "by contract" to all the years of his salary until his term ends in 2019.

Some attorneys say that shouldn't be the case because he's been identified as a key player in a criminal investigation and cannot fulfill his employment terms by continuing on as police chief.

Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.