Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha has promoted to assistant chief an officer who was convicted of assaulting a family member in 1994 and has had two temporary restraining orders sought against him in the years since.
Maj. Ryan Borges, the commander of the Windward District, was convicted of terroristic threatening for a domestic assault that involved a handgun, according to the Honolulu County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. No further details were available because the file had been destroyed, said Dave Koga, a spokesman for the office.
Then-Gov. Ben Cayetano pardoned Borges in May 2001. He told Civil Beat on Thursday that he made the decision so that Borges and other police officers who had been convicted of domestic violence wouldn’t risk losing their guns — and therefore their jobs — under a federal law that prohibits people convicted of even misdemeanor domestic abuse from possessing a firearm.
“He threatened his wife with a gun, I looked into it,” Cayetano said. “He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. For me, that was punishment enough. I didn’t think he was going to threaten his wife again.”
Court records show a temporary restraining order was sought against Borges in 2006 for harassment. And in 2014, in a case covered by Honolulu media, Borges’ daughter’s boyfriend was granted a temporary restraining order after alleging that Borges had been threatening him for months.
Hawaii News Now reported then that Borges was ordered to turn in his badge and gun pending an investigation. But the 33-year-old man withdrew his accusations in April 2014 after the case drew significant media attention, according to KHON.
The promotion comes as lawmakers are considering a number of bills addressing police misconduct, including measures that, among other things, would require more disclosure of bad behavior, create an independent board to oversee police training and standards statewide and require police agencies within the state to share information on bad cops with each other.
The momentum for approval of stronger police oversight comes in large part after a series of police indiscretions that were highly publicized, exposing a level of misconduct within the Honolulu Police Department in particular that caught many by surprise.
One of those cases involved an HPD sergeant caught on a restaurant surveillance tape repeatedly punching his girlfriend. The video sparked public outrage, including among domestic violence advocates and women lawmakers who forced meetings with Kealoha to demand that he address domestic violence within his own department.
“One would think that any action that the leadership makes would be cognizant of the fact that the department is under intense scrutiny, and that every word said, every action made will be looked at and reviewed.” — State Sen. Will Espero
What little information about police misconduct that is made public, primarily through annual summaries to the Legislature, shows that HPD investigates numerous cases of domestic violence by officers every year. A Civil Beat analysis of those reports shows that from 2000 to 2015 there were at least 35 incidents of domestic violence reported to the Legislature, with eight of those coming last year alone.
On Thursday, after the chief announced Borges’ in-house promotion, an anonymous email ostensibly from someone within or close to the department was widely shared with lawmakers, domestic violence advocates and members of the media, setting off a firestorm of criticism.
“It does make one wonder what’s going on at the department,” said Sen. Will Espero, who has been pushing for years for more oversight of police, including making disciplinary records public as they are for every other state and local government employee.
“The appointment of Mr. Borges to assistant chief does raise eyebrows, especially when this is a decision made and approved by Chief Kealoha, who himself is sadly and unfortunately under investigation,” Espero said. “One would think that any action that the leadership makes would be cognizant of the fact that the department is under intense scrutiny, and that every word said, every action made will be looked at and reviewed. In this case we have a department that, sad to say, has lost some trust and faith from the public.”
Espero said he wished the department would have taken the opportunity to appoint a woman to the position Borges now holds.
But Kealoha said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon that Borges’ record as a police officer and his involvement with the community made him a good choice for the assistant chief job, the third-highest rank in the department.
“I appreciate that Major Borges has been honest and open about his past,” Kealoha said in the statement. “We’ve all made mistakes in our lives, but what’s important is what we do afterwards. We need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to move on and become better people. In Major Borges’ case, I believe he has done that.”
Kealoha described Borges as an experienced officer with 32 years experience who is active in the community and his church, including working with a prison ministry program and at a camp for children whose parents are in prison.
Kealoha’s statement made no mention of domestic violence involving Borges or other cases within his own department.
And that was frustrating to the advocates and lawmakers who have been trying for more than a year to get HPD to take DV cases seriously and improve their own policies.
“We’ve all made mistakes in our lives, but what’s important is what we do afterwards. We need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to move on and become better people.” — Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha
Sen. Laura Thielen, who is one of those leading the legislative effort to bolster police accountability, said she was disappointed that the chief didn’t feel the need to address the domestic violence issue head on, especially if he believes Borges has learned his lesson and grown from it.
“What’s important is what the chief does next with issues of domestic violence in general,” Thielen said.
“How he acts publicly is important so the public can be assured (police officers) can be held accountable and that there isn’t a double standard,” she said. “And we would like to see substantive action on how the Police Department is addressing this issue within its own ranks.”
Kealoha promised a renewed effort to handle police domestic violence after Thielen and other lawmakers and advocates descended on his office last year to insist that he address it. The chief allowed domestic violence advocates to meet with officers and conduct training.
Marci Lopes, executive director of the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said Thursday that her group helped train new recruits twice last year.
They also gave extensive input into what HPD said would be new policies and procedures for handling domestic abuse cases. But that was a year ago, Lopes said, and they still haven’t seen any sign of new policies being put in place.
The appointment of Borges is a step backwards, she said.
“It’s alarming, it really is,” Lopes said. “We feel like we had made a lot of progress.”
Lopes pointed out that Kealoha had made statements that he had a zero tolerance for domestic abuse by police officers.
The appointment of Borges sends a different message, she said, especially to people in the department. Lopes said she heard that concern on Thursday from people within the department who contacted her.
Thielen said if nothing else the Borges appointment underscores the need to pass the proposed bill that would require full disclosure of disciplinary action taken against police officers who have been suspended or discharged. Currently, an exemption in the state public records law that applies only to police shields their misconduct from public scrutiny until they have been fired and have left the department.