In 2009, two veteran Honolulu police officers were arrested in Las Vegas on drug charges.
Officers Shayne Souza and Kevin Fujioka were eventually convicted on charges stemming from the incident but only Souza lost his job.
Fujioka was initially fired by the Honolulu Police Department. But he was recently reinstated after Hawaii’s police union pushed back against his termination. Souza wasn’t so lucky.
No one will explain why Fujioka is back on the force — working in the training division at the police academy — while Souza had to give up his badge.
Police officials say state law prohibits them from disclosing any information about police misconduct and disciplinary action unless an officer is discharged.
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the department would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Fujioka’s reinstatement.
HPD also denied a Civil Beat records request for the arbitration decision that overturned his termination, saying it was confidential because the discharge was reversed.
Tenari Ma’afala, the head of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, did not respond to a request for comment on Fujioka’s reinstatement.
Ma’afala, however, told Hawaii News Now that Fujioka and Souza were both represented by SHOPO in their termination appeals and each one had a different arbitrator. Ma’afala said sometimes it comes down to the luck of the draw since some arbitrators are more lenient than others when it comes to police misconduct.
“What people don’t see is the circumstances that led up to the termination and also how the investigation was conducted,” Ma’afala told Hawaii News Now. “If the investigation obviously is subjective, there are a lot of loopholes there. And it becomes a window, an opportunity for SHOPO to expose that.”
Ma’afala is right. The public isn’t allowed to examine the facts and circumstances behind police misconduct and whether it’s being dealt with effectively and fairly. As Ma’afala points out, the lack of public disclosure allows SHOPO to operate out of public sight and allows arbitrators who have varying degrees of tolerance for police misconduct to make decisions unchecked.
That would seem to argue for more openness about what takes place during arbitration hearings. But in fact the opposite is true.
In Hawaii, most of the disciplinary process for police officers has been kept off limits to the public since SHOPO convinced the Legislature in 1995 to shield officers from public scrutiny.
County police officers are the only public employees in the state exempt from public disclosure of disciplinary actions, including suspensions. The information only becomes public if the officer is fired and the termination upheld after a lengthy union grievance process.
Without having more details about circumstances surrounding bad behavior — including the cases of Souza and Fujioka — it’s impossible for citizens to know whether the disciplinary system is working to keep good officers on the force or whether it’s simply putting bad cops back on the streets.
Here’s what we know from four-year-old news reports about Fujioka and Souza:
The two cops were in Las Vegas to play in a softball tournament involving 2,000 police officers and firefighters from across the country.
Las Vegas police found Souza and Fujioka in a white rental van parked illegally across two stalls in a parking lot. As the Vegas officers approached the van, the Honolulu cops drove off. A short pursuit ensued.
According to the Associated Press, Fujioka and Souza got out of the van and attempted to run. Both were caught, and officials said Souza was pepper-sprayed because he was resisting arrest.
The two HPD officers were charged with marijuana possession. Fujioka, who had been with HPD for 13 years, was also charged with driving under the influence of a narcotic. Souza, a 20-year HPD veteran, was charged with drug paraphernalia possession, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.
A third man in the van, Scott Wilson, a Honolulu social worker, was charged with marijuana possession and having an open container in a vehicle.
At the time of the arrest, then-Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that the department would launch its own investigation. He also discussed the serious nature of the charges and the fact that officers who are found guilty of such crimes should not be on the force.
“If these allegations are true, these individuals should not be police officers, and they should not be supported by their fellow officers or their union,” Correa said. “The police union has always said that it does not tolerate illegal drug use by its members. I hope that the union leadership will stand by its word in this case and do what is right for the community.”
But Ma’afala told the Star-Bulletin that the officers had made a “bad mistake” and that they were “remorseful and regretful” for their actions.
“What these two officers have done is not a reflection of the entire police family,” Ma’afala told the newspaper. “One or two individuals do not make the department.”
In Las Vegas, Souza pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of a police officer in March 2010. A marijuana charge against him was dropped.
Two months later Fujioka was convicted in Las Vegas of driving under the influence of marijuana and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
After the convictions, an HPD spokeswoman told the Star-Bulletin that both officers had been placed on administrative leave with pay while HPD conducted its own internal investigation.
The result of that investigation is clear. HPD wanted both officers off the force and both were discharged. Souza lost an arbitration and his grievance process ended with his termination. But Fujioka, as Ma’fala has said, was luckier. He got his job back.
Civil Beat requested Souza’s disciplinary file in January as part of it’s investigative series, In The Name of the Law, that examined police misconduct and lack of disclosure of disciplinary records.
So far HPD has only released 44 pages of Souza’s file, which has been described as very large. Many of the pages are heavily redacted.
The file beings with a July 28, 2010 letter from Police Chief Louis Kealoha to Souza telling him he was being fired over the incident that occurred in Las Vegas.
A June 29, 2012 letter from Kealoha tells Souza that an arbitrator upheld his discharge and that he would receive back pay for the time he was on administrative leave.
The documents released so far also include a 41-page report from Lt. Roy Sugimoto in HPD’s Professional Standards Office, formerly known as Internal Affairs. Many HPD officers’ names are blacked out of Sugimoto’s report, including Fujioka’s despite the fact that the incident had been widely reported in Honolulu and Las Vegas media. The names of Las Vegas police officers and emergency personnel, however, are not redacted.
Sujimoto’s report helps clear up some of the circumstances surrounding Souza and Fujioka’s arrest, but it also raises many questions.
Perhaps the most illuminating part of the report is related to Souza’s arrest. According to Sugimoto, Souza is the only one who fled when the Las Vegas officers ordered him and Fujioka from the van.
The Las Vegas officers said they chased him through a nearby park as he yelled out that he was a police officer. When Souza was stopped, the report says, he “squared off” and took a “fighting stance.”
Souza was pepper-sprayed twice by police. But Fujioka told HPD’s internal affairs investigators that it didn’t appear that the use of force was necessary. According to the report, Fujioka said it appeared Souza was already handcuffed and sitting on the ground when he was pepper-sprayed.
Fujioka, who was handcuffed and in the back of a patrol car at the time, said he also saw the officers take out their batons although he didn’t know if they actually hit Souza.
It also appears that Fujioka attempted to lie to HPD investigators during the internal affairs probe. Sugimoto’s report says that Fujioka denied being under the influence of marijuana when he was driving the vehicle.
When he was informed that a blood test indicated he had marijuana in his system, Fujioka responded by saying that it was because he had smoked weed in Honolulu before making the trip to Las Vegas. He told investigators that he smoked up to three times a week.
Internal affairs investigators presented this evidence to a doctor who said that the toxicology results would make Fujioka’s story “extremely unlikely and not plausible,” and that it was likely Fujioka was smoking marijuana right before being caught.
The report ends with Fujioka telling investigators he was sticking to his story.
Civil Beat is still waiting for Souza’s arbitration report to be released, among other things.
Read Civil Beat’s investigative series, In The Name of the Law, to learn more about how police are exempt from public accountability when it comes to misconduct.
Here’s what HPD has released so far from Souza’s disciplinary file:
DISCUSSION At what point do you think police misconduct records should be made public?
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