At the urging of the Honolulu Ethics Commission and Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission announced Tuesday that he has recused himself from the vetting and selection of a new police chief.

Max Sword is related through marriage to one of the seven finalists, Thomas Aiu, a former special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Sword’s recusal is all well and good. But not quite good enough.

He should go further by resigning immediately.

HPD Commission Chair Max Sword speaks to media about Chief Kealoha’s ROPA and 30 day leave. 20 dec 2016
It’s time for Honolulu Police Commission Chairman Max Sword to step down. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

While Sword was right to — finally — recuse himself, the fact that he waited until now to make that decision only underscores how poorly he has performed his duties since his fellow commissioners elected him chair in December.

During Sword’s tenure, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who is under investigation for public corruption, received a $250,000 cash payment as part of a retirement deal he secured from the commission.

Then Sword recommended that reality TV star Beth Chapman, wife of Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, be named to a citizens selection panel to help evaluate the police chief candidates. The commission later scratched that silly idea, one tainted by the fact that Chapman was a former client of Sword’s wife, publicist Mona Wood-Sword.

(As recently as last month, Wood-Sword served as a family spokeswoman when it was announced that Chapman was diagnosed with throat cancer.)

And, Sword has demonstrated that he does not understand the First Amendment and how state law requiring open governmental proceedings works.

That was made painfully clear when commissioners Steven Levinson and Loretta Sheehan, both lawyers, had to remind Sword of the law during a meeting over whether the commission should approve taxpayer-funded legal counsel for two officers. Still, Sword ignored them and voted with three other commissioners to allow secret hearings in the officers cases, a decision that has sparked a legal challenge by Civil Beat and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. 

As Caldwell observed when he called for Sword’s recusal Monday, it was in the “best interest of the people” of Honolulu that the commission chairman step away from the police chief selection process.

“Even if the Ethics Commission finds that, technically, there is no conflict, given the importance of this decision, a recusal would address even the slightest perception that there may be a conflict,” the mayor said.

Whether or not Thomas Aiu is named chief — a decision is expected by the end of this month — Max Sword is just not up to the responsibilities of the Police Commission. Its mission, after all, is to “Enhance the public confidence, trust and support in the integrity, fairness and respect of the police department, its officers and employees.”

Sword is in his second term as a commissioner and his appointment doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2020.

There are already two vacancies on the seven-member commission and Sword’s departure would allow Caldwell the opportunity to name his replacement as he works to fill the other two spots.  Caldwell spokesman Andrew Pereira said the search for new commissioners is underway.

And there will soon be two more potential openings on the beleaguered commission. The terms of commissioners Cha Thompson and Eddie Flores Jr. also expire at the end of this year.

Caldwell most recently appointed Levinson and Sheehan, who have proven to be highly qualified commissioners with invaluable experience in law enforcement, legal and civil rights issues. We hope he will take this opportunity to select similarly high-caliber, ethically minded candidates for the open seats.

A new police chief and fresh leadership for the Police Commission will help instill public confidence in two public institutions that sorely need it.

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