- Special Projects
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro announced this week that Katherine Kealoha, who is the subject of an ongoing public corruption investigation, will be part of a new initiative that aims to crack down on criminals who target tourists.
Kealoha, who is married to Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, is involved in a convoluted alleged conspiracy that includes allegations that she attempted to settle a family score over money by framing her uncle for stealing her mailbox.
One retired police officer has already pleaded guilty to felony charges in the case. Court records indicate that Katherine Kealoha is a co-conspirator in the mailbox theft case.
Kaneshiro, who was re-elected to another four-year term in November, announced Kealoha’s new position during his inauguration speech Monday at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center. Kealoha was also sworn in during the event along with all other deputy prosecuting attorneys.
Kaneshiro used his inauguration speech both as a public platform to outline his goals in the coming years as well as to defend himself, his office and other local law enforcement agencies that have been subjected to growing scrutiny amid public unrest over police practices, particularly those that have targeted minority communities.
He also critiqued the media, saying that members of the press often only get one side of the story from defense attorneys because prosecutors often do not discuss their cases in the public. He said it is important to fight this misperception.
“Being a prosecutor is a noble profession,” Kaneshiro told the prosecuting attorneys at the ceremony. “All of you have a tremendous duty and obligation to uphold. We are not the bad guys. We are the good guys.”
Kaneshiro has been an ardent supporter of Katherine Kealoha despite calls for him to fire her or restrict her duties while the federal corruption investigation plays out.
He’s been openly hostile toward Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, who has been conducting the grand jury investigation into the Kealohas and the police department. Kaneshiro has been called to testify before the grand jury at least three times himself.
Kaneshiro declined a request for an interview Tuesday to discuss the details of the new approach to prosecution that Kealoha will spearhead. But during his Monday address he described a new program that he hopes will protect tourists from the known criminals who are specifically targeting them.
“We will establish units that will work closely with the police, businesses and community groups in Waikiki and Windward Oahu where a lot of these crimes are occurring,” Kaneshiro said. “It will not matter whether these crimes are misdemeanors because we will return the victims to Hawaii to testify at trial.”
He said that deputy prosecutor Janice Futa will be in charge of the new initiative to go after criminals who target tourists. As part of the tourist unit, Katherine Kealoha will be tasked with supervising a new “intelligence-based prosecution strategy” that will use the data to prosecute the major criminals in each district of the island.
Futa is the deputy prosecutor who handled the two murder trials of Christopher Deedy, the U.S. State Department agent who shot and killed a local man, Kollin Elderts, in 2011. Deedy was acquitted on second-degree murder charges but the second trial ended in a hung jury on other counts. Kaneshiro’s office is seeking to take Deedy to trial for a third time but defense attorneys have asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to block a third trial.
The New York Times Magazine has described intelligence-based prosecution as the “‘Moneyball’ Approach to Crime’, in a December 2014 article about New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who is widely considered the pioneer of a burgeoning law enforcement practice.
Intelligence-driven prosecution is all about using data to fight crime, including information collected from the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It also asks prosecutors to shift their focus from the alleged crime — which could be something as minor as a shoplifting offense — to the career criminal who might have perpetrated it.
This shift in focus has allowed other jurisdictions around the country to target their resources on repeat offenders and others, such as gang members, who might be involved in more serious crimes that are harder to prove.