For more than two years we’ve been hearing about Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his city prosecutor wife, Katherine Kealoha, and their insane tale of a stolen mailbox, purportedly ripped off by Katherine’s uncle.
We’ve sat through a federal criminal trial in which the uncle, Gerard Puana, was accused of stealing the mailbox. That case ended in a mistrial when Chief Kealoha blabbed about the uncle’s criminal past on the witness stand even though he should have known better.
About the same time, we were treated to an equally crazy backstory of the Kealohas, this one involving her uncle and his mother — her grandmother — that played out in civil court amid allegations of fraud and financial elder abuse. A jury sided with Katherine on that one, and Puana was ordered to pay a hefty settlement. It’s still being appealed.
Now the U.S. Justice Department is starting to release details of a corruption investigation in which it’s looking like the Kealohas, with help from some of the chief’s top officers, may have set up the whole mailbox theft, some believe to frame Puana and get a leg up in the civil fraud case.
Does anyone else think this whole thing is totally bizarre for a police department the size of Honolulu’s where about 2,000 sworn officers are under the direction of this guy? And what about the fact that his wife is a top deputy in the career criminal division of the prosecutor’s office?
But wait. There’s more.
Louis Kealoha has been the Honolulu police chief since 2009. Since leap-frogging over several high-ranking officers including the acting chief to get the top job — Kealoha was a captain in the juvenile services division at the time — his Honolulu Police Department has been beset by the kind of problems that come with bad management and flawed leadership.
Since leap-frogging over several high-ranking officers including the acting chief to get the top job, Kealoha’s police department has been beset by the kind of problems that come with bad management and flawed leadership.
The frequency of bad behavior within HPD is enough that its stories make up most of the growing “police accountability” section on our website. A few highlights from Kealoha’s tenure as chief:
— Once a week, on average, an HPD officer faces disciplinary action, most often for something very serious like abuse of prisoners, domestic violence, lying, falsifying records, even conviction of a crime. Yet very few officers are fired and even suspensions are usually for short periods of time. Some officers have even served prison time and then returned to work. Oversight of dozens of bad cops is largely done in secret, with very little public disclosure of continuing problems.
— Since 2010, at least three dozen police officers have been arrested, charged or convicted of crimes ranging from drunken driving and tampering with government records to sex assault and extortion. Many of them are still with the department. One high-ranking officer — a former police major — was convicted of taking bribes and protecting an illegal gambling ring. Another was sentenced to federal prison for trying to extort money from a hostess bar.
— The city has shelled out millions of dollars in settlements, jury awards and legal fees relating to wrongdoing by Honolulu police officers. The cases involve use of excessive force, endangering others and racist and sexist behavior, among other things.
— Kealoha makes no effort to assure the public he serves that that his department is meeting the highest standards or that Honolulu’s police officers are receiving appropriate training and guidance. Questions about high-profile misconduct cases — like the officer caught on tape kicking a man in a gambling joint or the officers who attacked and beat two local hikers — have been generally met with silence by the chief. Department policies on a wide range of police practices are not made fully public and large sections are blacked out even when released or published on the HPD website.
— Domestic violence has been an ongoing problem within his own agency as well as among Honolulu residents. Kealoha resisted efforts by legislative leaders — the women’s caucus to be exact — to meet with him to discuss domestic abuse and how it was being handled. Last year, he promoted a major with his own history of domestic violence to a top spot in the department but was forced to reverse course in the face of public outrage.
— When officers kill citizens few details are ever made public despite the fact that a lot of taxpayer money is spent on legal settlements and attorneys’ fees. Kealoha rarely, if ever, addresses the media when someone dies as a result of police force. Usually the only details that emerge come from heavily redacted police reports that raise even more questions about whether officers acted appropriately or had proper training.
And now, the FBI has targeted Kealoha in its spreading corruption investigation that already has snared one former member of his Criminal Intelligence Unit, Niall Silva, who pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in connection with the mailbox theft case. Silva is now apparently helping the feds, who have identified a number of other co-conspirators, including one who appears from court records to be Katherine Kealoha.
The chief at first insisted he wasn’t going to resign or step aside because it wouldn’t be economically advantageous, he said, and besides, he added as kind of an afterthought, he needed to defend himself and his officers. But then one of his longtime supporters on the Honolulu Police Commission took him aside. We don’t know what was said, but they subsequently announced the chief was going on paid leave for a while.
You can’t make this stuff up.
And that is why it is long past time for Kealoha to leave — permanently. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t been charged or convicted of a crime relating to the bizarre mailbox case or any other aspect of the federal investigation. His record as police chief for the last seven years has been terrible. He needs to be fired. We’ve said this before.
The police commission needs to bring in an experienced, competent and motivated professional law enforcement administrator. Someone who can transition the Honolulu Police Department into the 21st century of policing.
Someone who is not beholden to the police union, who can break through the long-standing allegiances that have allowed bad behavior to flourish for years.
Someone who can lead the department forward with modern policing techniques like the latest in computerized crime tracking (with the data made public) and other community policing strategies that are being used by departments all over the country.
Someone who can restore the public’s confidence that HPD is using the best practices when it comes to integrity, accountability and transparency.
Moreover, the police commission absolutely cannot deal with this behind closed doors as has been its practice. Yes, it’s very much a personnel matter, but one involving an employee who is very much a public figure.
The public deserves a full airing of the troubles within one of its most important public agencies — in an open forum where officials on all sides are held publicly accountable for their decisions in this matter.