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Former Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa witnessed first-hand how corruption can permeate the ranks of the Honolulu Police Department.
Correa was chief in 2006 when five of his officers were caught providing protection to illegal gambling and cockfighting operations on Oahu’s North Shore.
The scandal was far-reaching. More than 35 people were indicted, including an FBI secretary who was tipping off her drug dealer boyfriend.
Correa told the local press it was “a dark day” for HPD. He then embarked on a crusade to beef up the department’s internal affairs division as well as implement other measures that he believed would hold officers more accountable.
The retired police chief sees the need for similar attempts at reform today. This is especially true, he said, in light of the recent arrest and indictment of Alan Ahn, a nine-year veteran from the HPD traffic division.
“The bottom line is there’s a problem,” Correa says. “And so now the question is what are you going to do about it?”
Ahn was arrested Aug. 13 on suspicion of promoting dangerous drugs as part of an undercover narcotics sting. Police found cocaine, marijuana and other prescription drugs in Ahn’s girlfriend’s home.
It was Ahn’s second arrest in a month. He had previously been taken into custody for alleged abuse of a family member against the same woman, who was nine months pregnant at the time of the drug raid.
But Ahn’s not alone.
“The bottom line is there’s a problem. And so now the question is what are you going to do about it?” — Former HPD Chief Boisse Correa
Since 2010, at least three dozen police officers have been arrested, charged or convicted of crimes ranging from drunken driving and tampering with government records to sex assault and extortion. Many of them are still with the department.
But despite the steady flow of cops through the courts, police officials say they don’t keep track of the criminal offenses involving their own officers.
Civil Beat compiled a list using a combination of media reports, court documents, public records and other information gathered from HPD and Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Here’s what we found:
|Siave Seti||Charged July 31 with assault for body-slamming a suspect on a sidewalk in Palolo Valley.|
|Vincent Morre, Nelson Tamayori, Joseph Becera||All three pleaded guilty this summer to federal charges related to an assault on a citizen inside a Chinatown game room and their subsequent attempt to hide it from authorities. Becera was a reserve officer.|
|Nicholas K.H. Masagatani||Indicted on multiple counts of sexual assault. The case was dismissed by a judge for procedural matters in May.|
|Anson Kimura||Arrested in April for assault after police say he accidentally shot a bartender in the stomach while off duty. Prosecutors are still weighing charges.|
|Danson Cappo||Indicted in February after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend. He was also charged with theft and property damage.|
|Kramer Aoki||Accused of felony sex assault after allegedly fondling a teenage girl during a traffic stop. The case was dismissed in January on a technicality.|
|Richard Staszyn||Arrested in June for allegedly trespassing on someone’s property and breaking a window frame trying to get into a home.|
|Scott Christopher Kobayashi||Arrested for misdemeanor domestic abuse in October 2014.|
|Roddy Tzunezumi||Sentenced in January 2014 to 33 months in federal prison for trying extort money from a hostess bar. Was also accused of taking part in a scheme to sell stolen cars.|
|Lyle Castro||Pleaded guilty in 2014 to a third-degree assault charge. Was also accused of terroristic threatening but the charge was declined by prosecutors.|
|Colin Wong||Found guilty of drunk driving in June 2014 after multiple delays in his trial.|
|Carlton Nishimura||Sentenced to eight months in prison in October 2013 for lying to the FBI and filing a false tax return. He was also indicted on drug possession and extortion.|
|Richard Wayne Raquino||Pleaded guilty and sentenced to prison in January 2013 after lying to the FBI about telling a drug dealer how to identify and avoid undercover cops.|
|Michael Steven Chu||Received eight month prison sentence in January 2013 for growing marijuana with his girlfriend. The couple had nearly 50 pounds of pot in their apartment during a police raid.|
|Duke Zoller, Aaron Bernal, Christopher Bugarin, Patrick Bugarin, Brian Morris||All five officers were involved in a scheme in which falsified DUI arrest reports to get overtime pay. The officers entered pleas between 2011 and 2012. Two other officers initially believed to be part of the scam were found not guilty.|
|Mitchell Tojio, Jim Yasue||Charged in 2011 with tampering with government records for falsifying workers compensation claims.|
|Dave Furtado||Stole the identities of two fellow officers so that he could get special duty assignments.|
|Mark Ward||Charged with assault for allegedly attacking a teenager with an umbrella during a water polo match. The charges were dismissed in 2011 after the complainant didn’t show up for trial.|
|Michael Tarmoun||Found guilty in 2011 of sexually assaulting a Waikiki prostitute. He fled the country before he could be sentenced and is believed to be in Morocco.|
|Boyd Kamikawa||Hit a 61-year-old pedestrian while driving drunk. Sentenced in 2011 to 30 days in jail.|
|James Yee||Arrested in 2010 for shoplifting, and charged with fourth-degree theft, which is a misdemeanor.|
|Ikaika Silva||Arrested in October 2010 for abuse of a household member.|
|Jason Kawabata||Arrested in 2010 for alleged abuse of a family member, who was a sergeant in the department.|
|John Rapozo||Arrested in September 2010 for shoplifting at a Walmart in Pearl City.|
|Shayne Souza, Kevin Fujioka||Arrested in Las Vegas for marijuana possession and related offenses. Souza was charged with resisting arrest. They were convicted in 2010.|
Police departments are often described as microcosms of their communities. Not everyone is the perfect citizen. There are bound to be cheats, ruffians and otherwise unethical people. On occasion arrests are made.
For example, more than 100 Washington D.C. police officers were arrested from 2009 to the end of 2013 on charges including murder, money laundering and sex abuse. Many of the arrests, however, were for traffic infractions or were dropped altogether.
In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin district attorneys filed charges against 70 officers during a 10-year span from 2000 to 2010. More than 40 were ultimately convicted of misdemeanors or felonies.
But it’s difficult to know just how many HPD officers have been booked or convicted without trawling the local news or sifting through volumes of court records. The department says it doesn’t track arrest or conviction reports of Honolulu police officers. Neither does the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, that office says.
In January, however, the HPD issued its annual report to the Legislature noting that in 2014 it had forwarded at least 22 cases to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Still, many important details are missing. Secrecy cloaks police misconduct in Hawaii due in large part to an anomaly in the public records law that shields bad cops from public scrutiny. Specifically, police departments don’t have to release the names of suspended officers, a rule that doesn’t apply to any other class of public employee in the state.
And since not many cops are fired for misconduct — they’re often allowed to resign or have their termination overturned — this has the effect of covering up the misdeeds of sworn officers, even if they’ve committed serious crimes.
“The public has to have a certain level of trust that our officers are going to do the right thing.” — Hawaii Sen. Will Espero
“Frankly, there’s a culture of corruption,” says Myles Breiner, a Honolulu attorney who frequently sues HPD. “Nothing’s really changed. It all starts at the top.”
Breiner recently settled a lawsuit with HPD for $167,500 in which two hikers say they were assaulted and wrongfully arrested on Lanipo Trail by eight police officers who were searching for armed robbery suspects.
The Honolulu Police Commission found two of the officers had used unnecessary and excessive force during the incident. All the officers were also found to have engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer.
But despite the findings of the oversight agency, none of the officers were ever disciplined by the department.
In fact, Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha said in court records that he “personally reviewed the evidence” along with his internal affairs division — known as the Professional Standards Office — and found that there was no wrongdoing on the part of his officers.
“The fact that none of the HPD Officers were disciplined was not the result of any attempt to ‘cover up’ misconduct, but was simply the result of the fact that there was insufficient evidence to discipline anyone,” Kealoha said.
“If sufficient evidence had been presented that one or more HPD officers had engaged in misconduct, I would not have hesitated to punish that person or persons and have done so in other cases.”
But Breiner says this attitude belies the problem — there’s no accountability. He also believes Kealoha needs to be replaced if there’s any shot at meaningful reform.
“The problem is the Professional Standards Office has been investigating cases to sanitize the department,” Breiner said. “There needs to be a revamping of the internal affairs office to give them some actual officers who are willing to pursue investigations and prosecutions.”
Kealoha has been quiet about the recent spate of officer arrests and convictions. In fact, the chief has kept a relatively low profile ever since his testimony in a case involving his stolen mailbox caused a mistrial in federal court.
A federal public defender says Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, who is a city prosecutor, tried to frame her uncle for the theft of the mailbox to help them win a lawsuit. There’s also concern that the chief abused his power when a specialized detail of plain-clothes officers were assigned to investigate the case.
Kealoha is now under a city ethics probe and the FBI has been asked to investigate.
Civil Beat requested an interview with Kealoha to discuss the recent arrests of his officers. Michelle Yu, a spokeswoman for the department, responded to that request with an email asking for written questions in advance of the interview. Civil Beat declined, and the chief refused to talk.
Hawaii’s police union has long been seen as helping protect bad cops. The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers has vehemently opposed any attempts to strengthen accountability laws, particularly those that would reveal more details about individual officers who get in trouble.
SHOPO President Tenari Maafala has publicly defended the police chief in the face of serious allegations lodged against him and his department, saying that much of the criticism is due to “skewed” media coverage.
Civil Beat has tried for years to discuss police misconduct issues with Maafala, but the union boss has continually ducked the opportunity. Maafala did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Hawaii Sen. Will Espero said now is the time for reform. For the past several years, Espero has been pushing to beef up the training requirements within county police departments as well as expand public oversight.
He has introduced legislation to create a statewide police standards board that would require that police officers be certified in order to carry a badge and gun. Hawaii is currently the only state without such an organization that sets minimum training standards.
Espero also wants more transparency from county police departments when it comes to disciplining police officers, and he has been trying to eliminate the public records law exemption that keeps much police misconduct out of the public eye.
But the recent arrests of police officers, including those working on neighbor islands, have begun to tarnish the reputation of the state’s law enforcement agencies.
The state senator says it’s now time for everyone, from state lawmakers to city council members, to step up and start asking questions. He also wants more civilian oversight because he says it’s clear the police haven’t been able to police themselves.
“The public has to have a certain level of trust that our officers are going to do the right thing,” Espero said. “And in all these cases where they don’t, then the people will feel betrayed or that there’s favoritism or that they’re trying to cover things up.”
Espero said the outcry for reform that’s being heard across many parts of the U.S. has been muffled in Hawaii, but he hopes the landscape is shifting.
“It’s slowly happening,” he said. “But not fast enough.”