UPDATED: Land Board Chair Suzanne Case thanked Thomas Friel for his brief tenure but offered no explanation for the abrupt departure. But new information suggests that he was terminated due to a lack of confidence in his performance.
Case accepted Friel’s resignation, effective June 27, a press release explained.
Friel joined the division last fall “after a long career in federal conservation resource law enforcement.”
No reason was given for the abrupt departure, and inquiries to the department were not returned.
In the press release, Case said:
Chief Friel helped move our resource conservation enforcement efforts forward by focusing on resource violations and on DOCARE officers not only as enforcers of Hawaii’s laws and rules, but also as protectors of our precious natural and cultural resources.
Under Chief Friel’s leadership the division supported stepped-up law enforcement presence and activities in the hugely popular Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, undertook internal reviews of operations, and led DOCARE’s investigations of natural resource violations. Those are just a few of the positive, forward-thinking moves that occurred during Chief Friel’s tenure.
DOCARE’s Tommy Friel at a Jan. 13 budget briefing at the Capitol.
Update: New information received after this article was first published suggests that Friel was fired from his post due to lack of support from colleagues and superiors.
State Sen. Will Espero, who has made public safety a priority issue at the Hawaii Legislature, said Wednesday that over the past few days 16 DLNR officers told him that they supported Friel. The DOCARE division numbers around 120 employees.
On Tuesday, Espero wrote Mike McCartney, chief of staff for Gov. David Ige, expressing concern about Friel’s position.
“I am told he has completed or is doing many internal investigations that have found wrongdoing in DLNR,” he wrote. “Some issues include missing firearms, misuse of federal funds, missing equipment and theft of equipment.”
“I’m not here to micro-manage in any way,” he said. “However there seems to be a major disconnect within DLNR employees. I want to make sure the right decision regarding Friel is made.”
Espero also provided what appears to be a June 16 termination leader sent by Case to Friel (reproduced below), one based on Case’s apparent disappointment with Friel’s job performance.
“At this time, it is my assessment that you have not made a willing effort to foster a positive working relationship with your leadership team, due in part to a perceived lack of trust and respect by you of your leadership team,” Case wrote.
She added, “It is with sincere regret that I am not extending your initial probation of employment at DLNR.”
Friel came under fire in January when comments he made at a legislative hearing implied DOCARE officers needed semi-automatic weapons to guard against fishermen from the Philippines and Indonesia working in local waters who may be Muslim.
At the time, Case said, “DLNR and its Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement in no way condone racial profiling. DNLR and DOCARE Chief Thomas Friel regret any possible interpretation otherwise in his response.Chief Friel’s comments were based on his observations and experiences while serving in a previous law enforcement capacity with federal agencies.”