The saga of Honolulu Police Department Sgt. Darren Cachola continues to unfold behind closed doors.

Last week a grand jury declined to indict the officer, who was famously captured on a restaurant surveillance video repeatedly hitting his girlfriend. But because grand jury proceedings are secret, the public has once again been shut out of being able to see for themselves why what appeared to be an open-and-shut case is anything but.

For the last month, we’ve watched the scene play out again and again on TV and websites: Cachola pushing and punching the woman through two rooms of the restaurant, stopping only when she was down on the floor and other people pulled him off.

Other video footage taken earlier that evening outside the restaurant appears to show the woman attacking him. And she has maintained from the beginning that it is just horseplay we see on the video.

Honolulu police cruiser (lights)

A Honolulu police cruiser in Kaimuki.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

But as Peter Carlisle, the former Honolulu prosecuting attorney turned mayor, pointed out on Hawaii News Now’s “Sunrise” morning show last week, what might have started as friendly behavior could easily have escalated into real violence.

“She’s down with her face on the ground and he’s whamming into the back of her head,” Carlisle said. “That does not look to me like something that could easily be called self defense or appropriate defense or even kidding around.”

The problem, as even Carlisle notes, is we just don’t know. Someone thought it serious enough to call 911 and officers were dispatched to the scene. Those officers never filed a report.

Police officials said an investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Beyond that, Chief Louis Kealoha refused to provide details, saying he had forwarded the case to the prosecutor’s office for review.

So Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro turned the case over to a grand jury, a smart move on his part because it helped eliminate accusations that he was protecting HPD. But the grand jury declined to indict and its report is also unavailable to us.

What now?

An administrative investigation by HPD continues into possible disciplinary action against Cachola and the officers who responded but did not file a report. Or so we think. Again, the police department refuses to make public any information on misconduct investigations unless an officer is discharged and then only after a years-long grievance process plays out.

The public’s right to know is a fundamental right in our society, and there is nothing more important for citizens to scrutinize than the actions of police who wield extraordinary power over ordinary citizens.

Even Chief Kealoha lamented his department’s infamous lack of transparency as he addressed reporters soon after the Cachola case broke.

Now he needs to follow through on that promise of openness, especially since the criminal case against his officer is closed.

Civil Beat and other news organizations have asked that he release the now-finished investigative report on the Sept. 8 incident at Kuni Restaurant. We’ve also asked for all the surveillance video, not just the short clip leaked to the media. And we’ve requested the tape — or at least a transcript — of the 911 call that brought police to the scene that night.

The state Office of Information Practices made clear in a 1999 opinion that police reports are subject to disclosure under the state public records law once an investigation is closed and court proceedings are complete. Both are over and done with in this case.

It’s time that the police department let the public in on its secrets. The public needs to be absolutely confident that Sgt. Darren Cachola was not treated differently because he is a police officer.

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