UPDATED 12/20/16 9:02 a.m.:
Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha received a target letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday notifying him that he’s a suspect in the ongoing criminal investigation stemming from the theft of his mailbox in 2013.
Kealoha’s criminal defense attorney, Myles Breiner, confirmed the chief’s receipt of the letter late Monday evening. Breiner added that Kealoha intends to follow departmental protocol and restrict his police authority while the investigation plays out.
What exactly that will mean in the chief’s case remains to be seen. Other officers who are the subjects of criminal investigations typically are stripped of their badge and gun and placed on desk duty until the matter is resolved.
“He’s not resigning, but just as he’s promised he’s going to place himself on ROPA,” Breiner said, using the Honolulu Police Department’s acronym for restriction of police authority. “He received the letter and the chief intends to fight. He’s done nothing wrong and he’s looking forward to vindication at the end of the day.”
The U.S. Department of Justice describes the target of a grand jury investigation this way:
Breiner said the chief’s wife, Katherine Kealoha, who is a city prosecutor, has not received a target letter. Katherine Kealoha is a central figure in the ongoing investigation, which also includes numerous other law enforcement officials.
On Friday, retired Honolulu police Officer Niall Silva pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges after admitting that he was part of a scheme to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of her mailbox.
Records from Silva’s plea deal mention at least five co-conspirators, including “Co-conspirator No. 1,” who reported the mailbox theft in the first place. Records show that Katherine Kealoha is the individual who contacted police to report the crime.
Puana had filed a lawsuit against Katherine Kealoha as part of a bitter family dispute involving money. After he was accused by her and her husband of stealing their mailbox, Puana’s criminal defense attorney Alexander Silvert said that his client was framed to help the Kealohas win the lawsuit.
Breiner said that there are at least two other people that he knows of who received target letters, but he refused to identify them or to discuss the contents of the chief’s target letter.
The chief released a statement early Tuesday through an HPD spokesman reiterating his innocence.
“There is no economic advantage to my staying on as chief, but if I leave the department now, I give credence to the baseless attacks,” Kealoha said. “I am voluntarily placing myself on ROPA status. I will continue to stand up for my police officers even if it means continued criticism from those who either do not care to understand, or who are pursuing their own political agenda.”
Civil Beat has asked the chief repeatedly over the past two years to discuss the allegations that have been lodged against him and his officers. He has refused to comment.
Honolulu Police Commission Chairman Max Sword said Monday night that the chief notified him that he had received the target letter. Sword said he could not discuss what the two men talked about because it is a pending personnel matter.
The Police Commission is the only entity that can hire or fire a chief. It is made up of seven citizens appointed by Honolulu’s mayor.
Sword added that this is the first time in his memory that a Honolulu police chief has said he would restrict his own powers. The chairman said he is not exactly sure what that will entail for the top administrator in the department, but he expects that to be a matter of discussion at the next commission meeting Jan. 4.
“This has never happened before,” Sword said. “I would like to have a discussion among all the commissioners.”