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Grainy surveillance video that shows a Honolulu police sergeant apparently pummeling his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant is raising serious questions about how the department handles officer-involved domestic violence.
But 14 years of disciplinary data compiled and analyzed by Civil Beat shows the Honolulu Police Department has a long history of leniency with cops found to have threatened, beat or otherwise hurt significant others and family members.
Now, the way HPD handles domestic disputes involving its own officers is going to be harder to keep hidden in light of the video showing HPD Sgt. Darren Cachola taking what appear to be multiple, full-bodied swings and uppercuts at a woman identified as his girlfriend.
The case is resonating even louder because it comes as TV viewers throughout the country have been watching National Football League star Ray Rice punch out his girlfriend in an elevator, knocking her unconscious. The Baltimore Ravens running back was fired after the video surfaced and the NFL came under fire for mishandling the matter. That incident, too, hinged on a surveillance video that has gone viral.
Cachola has not been arrested or charged with any crimes, although he has been placed on administrative leave and stripped of his badge and gun. His girlfriend has also told the media that the two were only playing, despite the fact that it looks like bystanders broke up the altercation.
Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha has also promised a thorough investigation of Cachola and how the officers who responded to the scene handled the call.
“To see that kind of violence, that’s unacceptable,” Kealoha said during a recent press conference. He also said that his “knee-jerk reaction” would have been to arrest Cachola based on what he saw in the video.
The Cachola video also outraged women political leaders. About two dozen female lawmakers, members of the Hawaii State Women’s Legislative Caucus, on Thursday called for a meeting with Kealoha and the Honolulu Police Commission.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that HPD officers chose not to enforce our domestic violence laws,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “The fact that the woman denied the incident is to be expected under the circumstances. Indeed, the responding officers’ failure to take action clearly communicated that her safety will not be protected by them. If similar situations have occurred in the past, any victim of violence would deny it out of fear of retaliation.”
“This incident sends a dark message to victims of domestic violence and all residents of Oahu, that members of HPD, who are supposed to serve and protect, may turn a blind eye to domestic violence or other criminal acts committed by of one of their officers.”
They say they are demanding accountability.
Since 2000, at least 26 Honolulu police officers have been suspended or terminated for incidents involving domestic violence. Of those, only three officers lost their jobs, but later were either reinstated or allowed to resign.
For instance, HPD records show that in 2001 a drunk officer who hit a significant other in the face and used a vehicle to pin that person up against another car was fired by the department.
“Let’s face it. The police department is just a microcosm of the entire community.” — Former Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donahue
But that officer’s termination was overturned during a union appeals process, which means that his or her name did not have to be released under state law and no other information released.
That same law that protects police from having their names publicly released after they’ve been disciplined but not fired makes it hard to track how many other police officers actually faced charges for the incidents they were involved in.
The data shows there were 23 domestic violence incidents that resulted in officers receiving suspensions of one to 20 days.
One officer who was only suspended for a day in 2000 pleaded guilty to assault, criminal property damage and harassment in family court. That officer was one of six who received a one-day suspension for domestic violence related misconduct.
The stakes are incredibly high for police officers involved in domestic violence. Federal law prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence charges from owning or possessing a firearm.
But as the National Center for Women & Policing notes, it is rare that officers actually lose their guns after being charged with abuse of a family member because charges can be reduced and their records expunged.
That group also cites studies that have found that at least 40 percent of police families experience domestic violence, which is four times that found in the general population.
HPD’s domestic violence policy says the department works to prevent such issues within the ranks, and department spokeswoman Teresa Bell said Thursday all HPD officers and recruits go through training to address the topic.
The policy states that all reports of domestic violence involving an officer should immediately be sent to HPD’s internal affairs division, which is now called the office of professional standards.
If officers are arrested, they are required to turn in their gun and will be assigned to duties that don’t require a firearm.
The policy was first implemented at the end of 2000 under then-Police Chief Lee Donahue, who told Civil Beat Thursday that it was in the works for at least a couple years before it was implemented.
“We had some cases involving domestic violence and we needed a policy for how to handle it,” Donahue said. “Let’s face it. The police department is just a microcosm of the entire community.”
Kealoha told the press that Cachola was not considered to be a problem officer. In fact, he was recently promoted to sergeant in July.
But Cachola’s ex-wife had filed for temporary restraining orders against him in 2002 and 2009 over threats he had made toward her. It’s unclear whether that was addressed internally under HPD’s domestic violence policy.
He was also involved in a police brutality lawsuit in 2006 in which he allegedly kicked a motorcyclist during a traffic stop. A jury sided with Cachola and the department in that case.
HPD Domestic Violence Incidents, 2000 – 2013
|1||2000||Abused a household member.||3 days|
|2||2000||Abused a household member.||10 days|
|3||2000||Pled guilty to assault, criminal property damage and harassment in family court.||1 day|
|4||2001||Pushed spouse during an argument.||1 day|
|5||2001||Threw a ring at a ‘significant other’ during a verbal argument, which caused swelling and bruising.||5 days|
|6||2001||While off duty, hit a ‘significant other’ in the face, causing injury.||5 days|
|7||2001||While intoxicated got into an argument with a ‘significant other’ and threatened that person with an issued firearm.||Discharged|
|8||2001||While intoxicated got into an argument with a ‘significant other’ and struck that person. On another date, while intoxicated, pinned a ‘significant other’ against a parked vehicle with another vehicle.||Discharged|
|9||2001||Was involved in a physical confrontation with a ‘significant other.||3 days|
|10||2002||Got into a verbal and physical with ‘significant other’ and significant other’s estranged spouse.||Discharged|
|11||2003||Left a threatening message on a former spouse’s answering machine.||1 days|
|12||2004||Was involved in a physical confrontation with his girlfriend.||5 days|
|13||2004||Physically abused family members.||1 day|
|14||2004||Used physical force against a family member.||5 days|
|15||2004||Used profanity and physical force against a former girlfriend.||5 days|
|16||2005||Involved in a physical confrontation with a household member.||5 days|
|17||2005||Involved in a physical altercation with a family member.||3 days|
|18||2006||Was involved in a domestic incident with spouse.||3 days|
|19||2006||Was involved in an argument with spouse that escalated into physical conflict.||1 day|
|20||2007||Exhibited unprofessional conduct by physically assaulting spouse||20 days|
|21||2010||Struck an ex-girlfriend.||3 days|
|22||2010||Physically abused a live-in girlfriend.||20 days|
|23||2010||Assaulted a spouse during an argument.||20 days|
|24||2012||Was involved in a physical altercation with a family member. Violate a 24-hour warning.||20 days|
|25||2012||Was involved with a physical altercation with a family member.||20 days|
|26||2013||The officer was involved in a domestic dispute that escalated into a physical altercation causing pain to the complainant.||1 day|