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A former Hawaii judge and U.S. Attorney is raising concerns about the integrity of one of the top candidates for Honolulu’s next police chief.
In written testimony to the Honolulu Police Commission, Steven Alm said he as well as two other U.S. Attorneys had a policy of not using Thomas Aiu as a witness in any criminal cases. Alm was one of Hawaii’s most high-profile judges before he moved to the Washington, D.C., area last year. He was U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii from 1994 to 2001.
Aiu, a former special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, is one of the seven finalists for Honolulu police chief and is expected to meet with the commissioners for an interview next week. He was also a finalist in 2009, when the commission ultimately selected Louis Kealoha to be the next police chief.
Alm noted that the policy of not using Aiu as a witness dated back to 1993, when his predecessor, Dan Bent, established it shortly before he left the office. Elliot Enoki, who took over the office in an interim capacity, then continued the policy, Alm said.
Alm, who also served as a 1st Circuit Court judge for 15 years following his tenure as a federal prosecutor, told the commissioners that he decided to keep the policy in place “after carefully consider(ing) the circumstances underlying the previous decisions” by Bent and Enoki.
But Alm didn’t specify what “circumstances” led to the policy. In an interview with Civil Beat on Monday, he also declined to elaborate.
“I think my written testimony speaks for itself, and I’d have to leave it at that,” Alm said.
Aiu also declined to comment other than to say, “I will be happy to address this matter with the Police Commission.”
Aiu then referred all questions to Sidney Hayakawa, his former supervisor who at one time oversaw the DEA’s operation in Hawaii.
Hayakawa told Civil Beat that he met with Alm several times in 1999, urging him to rescind the policy — to no avail. But Ed Kubo, who succeeded Alm, eventually reversed it, Hayakawa said.
“When the new U.S. attorney came, he reviewed the case and he determined that there wasn’t a sufficient cause to not use Mr. Aiu as a witness. So, under that administration, Mr. Aiu was used as a witness,” said Hayakawa, who was the assistant special agent in charge.
Kubo could not be reached for comment for this story.
Hayakawa also refused to say what the concerns over Aiu involved.
The meetings between Alm and Hayakawa took place around the time when Aiu brought a lawsuit against Alm in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
The details of that lawsuit are not clear. Documents related to the case are not available on the federal court website, and officials say the original case file is in storage on the U.S. mainland.
But in 1994, about a year after Bent’s policy of not allowing Aiu to be a witness in criminal cases was implemented, the DEA suspended Aiu for 40 days for unauthorized use of a government vehicle, misuse of office and improper association with a confidential informant, according to a summary of an appellate court ruling. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ultimately upheld the 40-day suspension.
Bent declined Civil Beat’s request for comment. Enoki, who’s now acting U.S. Attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Honolulu Police Commissioner Steven Levinson, a former Hawaii Supreme Court justice, told Civil Beat that Alm’s letter is “something very much worth paying attention to.”
“I’m very much aware of Judge Alm’s letter and regarded it as quite significant,” Levinson said. “The letter addresses a matter that goes to the question of trustworthiness.”
But Levinson says he’s reserving judgment, noting that the commissioners have yet to receive the “dossiers” on each candidate from the commission’s consultants, who have been conducting background checks and psychological evaluations.
“I don’t want to get into the weeds too much regarding particular written submissions about particular candidates because we’re trying to keep an open mind and be as objective and systematic about the process as possible,” Levinson said.
The commission has said it hopes to make a final decision on the next chief by the end of the month.