A federal indictment of former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine, a city prosecutor, along with four officers in a covert intelligence unit, is shedding light on allegations of corruption at one of the nation’s largest police departments.
The charges against the Kealohas include conspiracy, bank fraud and abuse of power. And the details of the case are convoluted, allegedly involving a botched frame job and the creation of an alias to help carry out crimes.
But problems in recent years at the Honolulu Police Department, which some contend has a culture of corruption, extend far beyond the current case.
Here’s some of the major reporting that Civil Beat has done on police misconduct and the lack of transparency and accountability at HPD:
Peyton Valiente was only 17 months old the day he was rushed to the hospital with severe wounds to his head. Experts say he was likely physically abused during the hours he was at day care, but no one was ever held accountable. Turns out the day care owner who was in charge of Peyton that day is married to a Honolulu police officer.
John Hill’s story about how the police failed to follow best practices prompted the attorney general to review the case, but it was too late to discipline the officers involved and Valiente’s mother is still looking for justice.
Reporting showed police failed to follow best practices in their handling of the case of Peyton Valiente, a toddler who suffered severe head wounds while likely being abused in day care.
Courtesy of Chelsea Valiente
Honolulu’s police union has been extremely powerful for a long time. In the 1990s, the union convinced the Legislature to grant an exemption protecting the names of cops who are disciplined for misconduct. Today, the union uses collective bargaining to ensure that officers who commit crimes can still keep their jobs and fights legal efforts by the media to access police misconduct files.
The union also lobbies against police reform at the Legislature, ensuring efforts to improve transparency and accountability fail time and time again. For example, Hawaii is the only state without a police standards board. The lack of such oversight is often cited as a reason that Ethan Ferguson, who was fired by HPD for lying about transporting a runaway, was able to later get hired as a state law enforcement officer. He then raped a teenage girl while on duty.
What do cops do when it looks like they might get in trouble? In Honolulu, they tend to resign, which means they often get to enjoy their pensions and escape accountability.
Aaron Torres died after three Honolulu police officers pinned him face down in the dirt outside his home in Nanakuli. His hands were cuffed behind his back and there were shackles around his ankles. The city paid out a huge settlement after his family sued, but HPD has blocked access to information about why Torres died.
Reporter Nick Grube delves into how and why Torres was killed and the ways in which the officers involved didn’t follow protocol. Torres was one of 36 people killed by Hawaii police officers between 1994 and 2013. Officers sent thousands more to local emergency rooms, costing millions in medical bills.
The Honolulu Police Department refused to allow the release of information about how a Nanakuli man died after being pinned face down by three officers outside of his home.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
HPD has a big problem with domestic violence, but officers who hurt their wives and girlfriends rarely if ever lose their jobs. One exception is Darren Cachola, who was fired after surveillance footage showed him beating up his girlfriend at a Waipahu restaurant (although he’s appealing the department’s decision). HPD even promoted one officer who was convicted of assaulting a family member.
The first of a five-part series by Grube in 2013 exploring secrecy surrounding Honolulu police misconduct shows how easy it is for cops to break the law and still keep their jobs. In Hawaii, police officers get a special legal exemption that keeps their names private when they are punished for misconduct.
That’s how HPD was able to say Officer James Easley got fired for “personal business while on duty” when he was actually accused of raping a domestic violence victim on the hood of his police car.
For more coverage, check out our full archive of stories involving police accountability.