One of the most persistent criticisms of the Honolulu Police Department in recent years — from legislators, City Council members and women’s organizations, in particular — has been that it doesn’t effectively handle domestic violence within its own ranks.

Nothing illustrated that more vividly than the 2014 case of Sgt. Darren Cachola, who was caught on video at a Waipahu restaurant repeatedly punching his girlfriend.

Responding officers failed to arrest Cachola or even file a report on the incident, prompting a departmental investigation. The matter was turned over to the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and a grand jury, which did not indict Cachola.

While he avoided criminal charges, he was among 17 officers discharged from HPD in 2015, an action he is fighting through a formal grievance. Cachola’s case was among 66 disciplinary cases involving 58 officers cited by the department last month in its annual report to the Legislature.

Of those cases, eight involved allegations of physical violence against a wife or girlfriend or sexual assault. Officers were fired in five of those cases.

Honolulu Police Department Chief Louis Kealoha anouncement of Smart 911 at HPD headquarters. 9 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
HPD Chief Louis Kealoha is under fire for promoting an officer with a history of domestic violence to assistant police chief. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It is against that lurid backdrop that HPD Chief Louis Kealoha inexplicably has named Ryan Borges one of several assistant chiefs of the department. “Inexplicably” because Borges was convicted not just of domestic violence, but of terroristic threatening in 1994 for an assault against his wife that involved a handgun.

Federal law prohibits those convicted of crimes of domestic violence — even misdemeanors — from possessing a handgun. Borges likely wouldn’t be an armed police officer today, had Gov. Ben Cayetano not pardoned him in 2001.

Cayetano told Civil Beat last week that he felt Borges’ guilty plea to a misdemeanor in that case was “punishment enough” and that he didn’t think Borges would threaten his wife again.

But it’s far from clear that this second chance put Borges on the straight and narrow. In 2006, a temporary restraining order was sought against him for harassment. And in 2014, Borges’ daughter’s boyfriend got a temporary restraining order against the policeman, saying Borges had been threatening him for months.

The boyfriend only withdrew the TRO when the matter drew media coverage he didn’t expect or want.

Borges’ off-the-clock challenges haven’t impeded his career. He rose through the ranks to commander of the Windward District. His recent promotion elevates him to the third-highest position in the department — and that’s just as it should be, according to Kealoha, who issued a written statement last Thursday praising Borges for his work with a prison ministry, his service to the community and to his church, and his 32 years as a law enforcement officer.

“I appreciate that Major Borges has been honest and open about his past,” Kealoha’s statement reads in part. “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.”

A Terrible Signal To Domestic Violence Victims

Personal honesty and openness ought to be the very least Kealoha expects of his police officers. As to whether Borges has learned from his mistakes, the TRO issued to him less than two years ago would suggest the learning process isn’t complete.

We wonder why Kealoha would go so far out on a limb for a repeat offender. Were there no other candidates who could fill this position without calling into question the department’s commitment to handling domestic violence cases within its own ranks? Candidates whose appointment wouldn’t send such a terrible signal to those who have been victims of domestic violence, not to mention rank-and-file cops throughout the department?

Perhaps we’re missing something here, but it seems an extraordinary decision for a police chief already under investigation on unrelated matters by the FBI.

We wonder why Kealoha would go so far out on a limb for a repeat offender. It seems an extraordinary decision for a police chief already under investigation on unrelated matters by the FBI.

But the issues raised by the Borges matter are bigger than the promotion of a single officer with a checkered past.

In the outrage prompted by the Cachola case, Kealoha assured legislators and community leaders that he understood and was responding to their concerns. He promised a zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse by cops and twice last year allowed representatives of the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence to train new police recruits.

That group’s executive director, Marci Lopes, told Civil Beat that the coalition provided significant input for new policies and procedures the department said it was creating for domestic abuse cases.

A year later, Lopes said there’s no indication those promised policies or procedures have been put in place. Instead, Lopes says she is alarmed by a management appointment that she sees as a step backward.

And Lopes is not alone. Sen. Laura Thielen, a member of the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus, which pushed hard for meaningful action in the wake of the Cachola case, said she’s disappointed.

Sen. Will Espero, who along with Thielen is pushing for change with a package of law enforcement reform bills this session, told Civil Beat that Borges’ appointment “makes one wonder what’s going on at the department.”

About half of respondents to The Civil Beat Poll last month said Hawaii’s local police departments need greater oversight. Only a little more than one-third of respondents said they’re satisfied with current oversight.

It’s hard to imagine that the decision to promote Borges made by a police chief under FBI investigation will improve those numbers.

Kealoha’s questionable judgment in the Borges appointment shows he’s tone deaf to the community he serves when it comes to the issue of domestic abuse.

Worse, his leadership of the department in the five years he has been in the top spot has been strewn with case after case of serious misconduct, as Civil Beat has reported. And though he promised greater transparency after the Cachola case couldn’t be hidden away as so many others have been, his own troubles have caused him to be anything but out front on issues of concern.

It’s time for the Honolulu Police Commission to find another chief, if Kealoha won’t step down. The citizens of Honolulu deserve a new sheriff in town.

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