Newly released records show that Honolulu Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan was an early target of police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a city prosecutor, who has described Sheehan as being “racially insensitive.”
The documents highlight the lengths the Kealohas — who are under federal investigation for public corruption and abuse of power — have gone to maintain their innocence and launch attacks on their accusers, including prosecutors and the press.
What’s become clear is that Sheehan, too, is in the crosshairs.
Last week, Sheehan released records detailing how Louis Kealoha’s attorney, Kevin Sumida, planned to get her disqualified from voting on whether to provide the ex-police chief with taxpayer-funded legal counsel in a lawsuit related to the corruption probe.
Included was a Sept. 7 letter Katherine Kealoha sent to members of the city police commission, urging them to ignore Sheehan’s call for an investigation into her husband. Sheehan, who was sworn in Aug. 15, had only been on the job a few weeks.
“The Police Commission has to date courageously resisted the political winds fueled by innuendo, media leaks, and baseless allegations,” Kealoha wrote. “This is the reason why the Police Commission is appointed as an independent body.
“I applaud your continued courage and ask, not merely for your support because we had done nothing wrong, but for your continued devotion to your duty to be objective and dispassionate, and to not give in to political expedience.”
The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into the Kealohas in 2015 after federal public defender Alexander Silvert accused them of framing one of his clients.
Silvert represented Gerard Puana, who was accused by the Kealohas of stealing their mailbox in 2013. But while preparing his defense, Silvert said he uncovered a wide-ranging conspiracy involving the Kealohas and several police officers.
Puana is Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, and at the time he was suing his niece for money that he claimed she stole from him and his mother. Sivert said gaining the upperhand in the lawsuit was the motivation for the frame job.
“We have a historic mandate to move forward and investigate the chief of police.” — Honolulu Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan
But Kealoha told commissioners in her letter that the DOJ investigation into her and her husband was a big misunderstanding and the result of vindictive prosecution.
She said it was based on flimsy allegations put forth by Sheehan’s “good friend” Silvert.
“He claims that the evidence of this is compelling and that he packaged it up into a neat package and gave it to the FBI for prosecution,” Kealoha said. “That was over a year ago, and the length of time alone suggests that the package was neither neat nor compelling.
“In fact, it is bogus.”
Kealoha rehashed many of her assertions of innocence, among them that federal prosecutors flubbed the criminal investigation into Puana and that a jury sided with her in the civil lawsuit, awarding her more than $600,000 in damages.
She also pointed out that the former city ethics director, Chuck Totto — who had launched an investigation into the Kealohas related to the mailbox theft — abruptly resigned after pursuing what Katherine Kealoha described as 19 “illegal” investigations against her and her husband.
“The Commissioners are honorable people, many of them retired judges,” Kealoha wrote, referring to three of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s appointees — Victoria Marks, Riki May Amano and Allene Suemori.
“They seemed visibly shocked by what they heard. And it is no coincidence to me that the director of the Ethics Commission, who was already in some trouble, was forced to vacate his position shortly thereafter.”
Kealoha also repeatedly criticized alleged “leaks to the media” that she said were coming from inside the federal grand jury that has been hearing evidence from the DOJ investigation into her and her husband.
Those leaks, she said, have been damaging to ongoing criminal investigations in the prosecuting attorney’s office where she works.
She also noted that her husband’s command of HPD had been compromised, and that he had to “work extra hard to combat the damage to HPD and its work.”
Kealoha specifically targeted Sheehan for public statements the former federal prosecutor had made about the police commission’s failure to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the chief and others in his department.
Kealoha took particular offense to a statement Sheehan had made during her Aug. 3 confirmation hearing before the Honolulu City Council.
“Comparing the Massie case to the mailbox case is to show an unfortunate lack of appreciation for the history and culture of our State.” — Katherine Kealoha
Sheehan told the council at the time that the chief needed more scrutiny, saying that the commission was formed in the wake of the so-called Massie affair in which a white woman married to a Navy officer falsely accused a group of local men of raping her.
One of the men, Joseph Kahahawai, was subsequently killed by those who knew the woman. Another suspect was severely beaten.
“We have a historic mandate to move forward and investigate the chief of police,” Sheehan told the city council at the time.
“Here we are 84 years later and the chief of police is under investigation for having manufactured evidence and framing another human being. It’s not ironic that’s exactly what happened in the Massie trial.”
Kealoha specifically mentioned that statement in her Sept. 7 letter to the commission, saying it was inappropriate for Sheehan to make such a loaded comparison.
“I believe Ms. Sheehan is a thoughtful and intelligent individual, and I don’t believe that she would have made such a comment if she had realized how offensive and racially insensitive it was to make such a comparison,” Kealoha wrote.
“Comparing the Massie case to the mailbox case is to show an unfortunate lack of appreciation for the history and culture of our State.”
Both Katherine and Louis Kealoha are part Hawaiian. Sheehan is white.
Sheehan did not specifically address Kealoha’s letter in her own lengthy response to Kevin Sumida’s allegations.
And while she didn’t want to delve into the specifics of Kealoha’s letter, Sheehan did tell Civil Beat that her comments about the Massie affair were not meant to be racially charged. Instead, they were meant to highlight that the Honolulu Police Commission was born out of the scandal in an attempt to curb police corruption.
“My reference to the Massie trial was not a reference to race,” Sheehan said. “I referred to the Massie trial during my confirmation hearing because that’s what led to the formation of the police commission in 1932.
“No one would disagree that egregious injustices occurred in the Massie case and that the police commission was created to prevent such injustices from happening again.”
Read Kealoha’s letter here: