UPDATED 6/25/11 9:55 a.m.

Online aliases, crude impersonations, racist language and images — all of it amounting to criminal-level harassment — a “tit-for-tat cyber-fight,” as one Honolulu prosecutor called it.

A letter from the Honolulu prosecutor to Honolulu’s police chief offers a window into the nasty political battles in the digital age happening in our own backyard.

It involves two dueling characters, a web designer and a city IT employee, each loyal to competing political candidates.

It all began in September 2008, when Keith Rollman, then employed with the city’s Department of Information technology and also working on Mufi Hannemann‘s mayoral re-election, filed a police report alleging he was the victim of harassment by impersonation.

An Election At Stake

Rollman, you will recall, was responsible for producing campaign materials in Mufi Hannemann‘s 2010 campaign for Hawaii governor. Many suspected he was behind the controversial “Compare and Decide” flyer that may have played a role in Hannemann’s defeat.

His antagonist was another political operative, Eric Ryan, currently the chief of staff for Honolulu Councilmember Tom Berg. Ryan has recently been in the news regarding allegations that he altered the website and an email of state Rep. Kymberly Pine.

In fact, the Ryan-Pine dispute led us to look more closely at the 2008 case.

The story of Rollman v. Ryan is chronicled in a 10-page letter from the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter to Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha regarding a harassment complaint by Rollman filed with HPD Sept. 16, 2008 — four days before the 2008 primary election.

Van Marter’s letter, dated July 6, 2010, is based on police reports and investigative materials generated from the incident report. While the story had some press coverage at the time, the full story has not been told.

Civil Beat obtained a copy of the Van Marter letter and the heavily redacted police report.

Rollman alleged that the website firepanos.wordpress.com contained racist and offensive remarks and images directed toward one of Hannemann’s primary opponents, Panos Prevedouros. Rollman claimed it was made to appear that Hannemann controlled the site.

‘The Offending E-mail’

Rollman’s complaint also alleged that a Sept. 15 email from mufihannemann@gmail.com was sent to city employees and others, and linked to firepanos.wordpress.com. Rollman alleged that the emails suggested he wrote the email as well, although Rollman told police he had nothing to do with it.

A redacted copy of the email in question characterizes Prevedouros as “a racist, a homewrecking adulterer, a stupid Greek…”

The email — Van Marter refers to it as “the offending e-mail” — was traced by investigators to an Internet-provider address assigned to the law offices of John Carroll, where Ryan shared office space.

UPDATE Carroll is a former legislator who has run for office as a Republican. At the time of the complaint, Carroll and Ryan were identified by HPD as possible suspects.1

Firepanos.wordpress.com and a website called anybodybutmufi.com were also believed, according to Van Marter’s letter, to be linked to Carroll and Ryan. Subpoenaed records later confirmed the connection, as well as another — to the domain name railvotenow.com.

Hannemann at the time was the leading advocate of Honolulu’s rail transit plan, and Prevedouros was a leading critic of the plan and was basing his mayoral run on the issue.

Van Marter writes that his office recovered an audio recording from firepanos.wordpress.com of Ryan impersonating Rollman, adding, “it includes offensive comments that a reasonable person would construe as harassment.”

The Prosecutors Office and HPD also interviewed Carroll and determined that “the offending e-mail” came from Ryan’s own computer.

‘Offensive, Lewd, Racist’ Comments

As it turns out, a search warrant of Yahoo records for firepanos.wordpress.com linked both Ryan and Rollman to the site — both were using alias email names and addresses in order to post comments on the site’s blog.

Each attacked the other with “numerous offensive, lewd, and racist comments, cartoons, and images,” with Rollman on several occasions using his city email and address.

Rollman’s aliases included “Bob W.” and “R. Weisel.”

Here’s how Van Marter, referring to himself in the third person, writes about the aliases in his letter:

When Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter asked Keith Rollman whether he (Keith Rollman) was “Bob W.” and “R. Weisel”, Keith Rollman said, “Yes”, and he even corrected the deputy prosecutor’s pronunciation of the name “Weisel”.

As for “the offending e-mail,” Ryan said it came from Dan Douglass, another person working out of Carroll’s office.

But Douglass said it came from Daniel Brackins, yet another person working out of Carroll’s office. Douglass also confirmed for investigators that it was Ryan’s voice on the audio recording impersonation of Rollman, and that Brackins can be heard laughing in the background.

Brackins, too, confirmed that it was Ryan’s voice on the recording but said it was Ryan, not Brackins, who sent “the offending e-mail.”

‘Tit-For-Tat Cyber-Fight’

At the conclusion of his letter to Chief Kealoha, Prosecutor Van Marter said there was “sufficient evidence to believe” that Ryan sent the email and posted the recording.

The investigation also determined that both suspect Ryan and complainant Rollman “engaged in harassment by impersonation.” Van Marter concludes:

The only legal difference between their methods of operation was that Rollman impersonated a fictitious person and Ryan impersonated an actual person (Rollman). Otherwise, both Ryan and Rollman posted comments, cartoons, and images with the intent to harass and annoy the other.

Calling the circumstances “unique,” Van Marter said his office declined to prosecute, “even though evidence is sufficient to prove Ryan’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Van Marter also concluded that Rollman may have “taunted” Ryan and misused city resources. He called the matter a “tit-for-tat cyber-fight.”

Aftermath

In an interview Friday with KITV reporter Daryl Huff, Rollman was dismissive of Van Marter’s letter, although he said he had not read it.

Rollman admitted occasionally using false names, saying, “As does pretty much everybody else.”

He also doubted that he used a city account to make posts or send emails, said he did not discuss the matter with his then boss, Hannemann, and said what he did on his own time was protected by constitutional freedoms.

Reached by Civil Beat via email Friday, Ryan wrote:

All I’ll say is what I told (KITV Reporter Daryl) Huff: On January 26th, at Tom Berg’s swearing in, Doug Chin made a beeline for me and introduced himself in order to apologize on behalf of himself and former city prosecutor turned mayor Carlisle for the Rollman complaint and investigation. This apology has been memorialized in a City e-mail. Per Huff, Rollman was doing political dirty tricks for Mufi on City time … a story which has NEVER been covered.

Hannemann declined to comment on this article, while Carroll has long since disassociated himself with Ryan.

One final note: After Civil Beat and KITV reported earlier this month on Ryan’s involvement with Rep. Pine’s email and website, Rollman posted the stories on his Atomic Monkey blog.

The cartoon reproduced above ran on Rollman’s blog earlier this month.

Read the full prosecutor’s letter here:

—Alia Wong and Robert Brown contributed to this story.

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