At least 28 Honolulu police officers were disciplined in 2015 for committing crimes ranging from witness intimidation and theft to kidnapping and sexual assault, according to an annual misconduct report filed with the Hawaii Legislature.
Altogether, 58 officers received disciplinary action. Some of the officers were discharged while others received suspensions. Many, including several who the department wants to fire, are appealing their punishment through a union-negotiated grievance process.
But few details are known about the actual crimes and misconduct committed by Honolulu police officers. No names are included in the reports, and the typical description is a vague, one-to-two sentence summary.
The state’s public records law also shields officers from having most details about their misconduct released publicly.
The Honolulu Police Department report shows that 17 officers were given discharge notices in 2015, with nine of them appealing their terminations. That’s by far the most discharge notices issued by the department in at least the last 15 years.
Between 2000 and 2014, a Civil Beat analysis of misconduct reports found that at least 32 discharge notices were issued to officers. Many of those officers, however, were allowed to keep their jobs or resign in lieu of termination.
For example, HPD attempted to fire five officers in 2014. One officer who had been busted for his involvement in an illegal cockfighting operation resigned before the disciplinary process was finalized.
Another officer who the department wanted to terminate for failing a drug test had the discharge overturned after completing a drug treatment program.
For the cases listed on the 2015 report, HPD officials said that six of the eight officers whose discharges were reported as final actually resigned before they were terminated.
“HPD officers are held to a higher standard, and all allegations of misconduct are taken seriously,” Deputy Police Chief Marie McCauley said in a written statement. “The department is committed to holding officers accountable for their actions and to conducting thorough, fair investigations on a timely basis.”
The past two years have been particularly troubling for HPD when it comes to misconduct, and it seems that the 2015 report is a reflection of some of those problems.
Three of the officers HPD said were discharged appear to be the same three people who were involved in a high-profile police brutality case in Chinatown that resulted in an FBI civil rights investigation. One officer, Vincent Morre, was convicted and is serving time in prison.
The report shows that HPD has issued a discharge notice to an officer who is described to have gotten into a similar altercation with his girlfriend, but that grievance is pending.
Still, there are more questions than answers about the 66 cases of misconduct listed in the report that are attributed to 58 officers.
State Sen. Will Espero, who has been one of the strongest voices calling for police reform in Hawaii, said the latest HPD report is disturbing. But he added that there’s reason to be encouraged.
“Obviously, there’s a significant jump in the numbers that are being reported,” Espero said. “I’d like to think that part of this is due to the pressure from legislators and the public that being’s placed on the department.”
He specifically noted the response to the Cachola case, which galvanized lawmakers and prompted a record number of reform measures to be introduced at the Legislature in 2015.
Many of those bills died. But Espero says he’s hoping that will change in 2016. He’s now the vice chair of the Senate as well as vice chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
The committee is scheduled to take up several measures this week, including bills that would make it easier to track bad cops.
“I believe that these numbers clearly show the need for change and reform and improvement,” Espero said of the latest HPD misconduct report.
“Many bills in this 2016 session address this need for better civilian oversight, transparency and accountability. Hopefully, this information will be a catalyst to move some of these bills forward.”
The Maui County Police Department has also submitted its annual misconduct report to the Legislature. It highlights 16 cases of misconduct between 2014 and 2015.
The report provides even fewer details than the report submitted by HPD, and includes alleged criminal conduct by officers, including one case in which an officer “committed numerous criminal acts of a sexual nature.”
That officer, who is not named in the report, was issued a 60-day suspension and a termination notice. The case is still the subject of an ongoing grievance process.