For more than 18 months, Alexander Silvert has waited for the Honolulu Police Commission to ask him about the evidence he uncovered of wrongdoing committed by city Police Chief Louis Kealoha and other officers within his department.

But now if the commission calls, Silvert says, he won’t pick up.

On Tuesday, the federal public defender issued a lengthy statement that blasted the Police Commission for its repeated failure to investigate the chief in a case that involves allegations that he helped frame his wife’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of their mailbox in 2013.

Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert speaks to media about his client Gerard Puana’s case being dismissed. 16 dec 2014. photograph Cory Lum
Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert says the Police Commission has failed in its duties to provide proper civilian oversight of HPD and its chief, Louis Kealoha. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Silvert’s statement was in response to the recent appointment of Loretta Sheehan to the Police Commission. Sheehan, a former assistant U.S. attorney, has said that as a commissioner she would want to bring in Silvert, who represented Puana, to discuss what evidence he had and determine if it warranted further action from the commission.

The Police Commission is the only entity that can hire or fire the chief. Kealoha is currently under a federal grand jury investigation along with his wife, Katherine, a high-ranking city prosecutor, for public corruption stemming from the mailbox case.

The Police Commission has done little to investigate the matter.

Silvert said he has never been contacted by the Police Commission to discuss the case. And while Silvert thanked Sheehan for her “honest attempt at fulfilling her duties and responsibilities to the community as a Police Commissioner,” he said he no longer believes the agency will act appropriately to address the concerns being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has appointed a special prosecutor.

“Having conducted absolutely no independent investigation itself, other than taking the word of Chief Kealoha in a closed executive session, it comes as no surprise that the Commission continues to unequivocally support Chief Kealoha,” Silvert wrote.

“The Commission’s unwavering support flies in the face of both former United States Attorney General (Eric) Holder and the FBI’s belief that the information we uncovered was credible enough to warrant what has now turned into more than a year-long federal criminal investigation. One does not rely solely on the word of the fox to tell you whether he stole and ate the chicken from the henhouse.”

Silvert said the commission was “ill equipped” to work as an independent oversight agency in part because most of the commissioners, aside from Sheehan, have no legal or law enforcement background.

He also slammed the commission for holding its meetings at the Honolulu Police Department headquarters, saying that it forced people wishing to complain about the police to walk through a “gauntlet of officers” before being able to testify before the commission.

“Such an intimidating setting does not foster independence nor candor from members of the public,” Silvert said. “Rather, it serves only to stifle free and open discussion, and thus to limit the information the Commission receives regarding the conduct of HPD officers and of the Chief himself.”

Sheehan told Civil Beat that she hopes Silvert reconsiders his position, although she made clear that her views did not represent those of the entire commission, which she said are expressed through Chairman Ron Taketa.

“I completely understand why Mr. Silvert feels the way he does,” Sheehan said. “And it’s my hope that I can get him to change his mind as we move forward.”

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