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The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers didn’t take kindly to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s decision to reassign its president, Tenari Maafala, to midnight patrol in Waikiki.
The union filed a complaint this week against Ballard and the Honolulu Police Department with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, saying that her decision to move him out of the Peer Support Unit was a violation of SHOPO’s collective bargaining unit.
The union also took issue with what Ballard cited as one of the reasons for Maafala’s transfer — that he and others in the unit were getting paid overtime for what was originally envisioned as volunteer work to help officers cope with trauma.
According to the complaint, Ballard’s statements about Maafala’s history with the unit was “confidential and private information” that she should not have been shared publicly.
The complaint additionally stated that many of Ballard’s statements — which were made to Civil Beat in a December article — were “patently false and defamatory.”
On Wednesday, the chief addressed the complaint in general terms during a break in a Honolulu Police Commission meeting, telling members of the media that her decision to reassign Maafala and others was part of a larger initiative to revamp the Peer Support Unit and fill other positions in the department.
“I received the complaint today and I read through it,” Ballard said. “I look forward to working with the union for the benefit of the community and the best interest of the community and all the officers. And that’s pretty much all I can say at this time.”
Maafala did not respond to a request for comment.
The 16-page complaint contends that Ballard and HPD violated SHOPO’s collective bargaining agreement when the chief decided to reassign Maafala and three other top union officials against their will.
The officers include SHOPO Vice President Malcolm Lutu, Secretary Michael Cusumano and Director-at-Large Don Faumuina, who worked with Maafala in the Peer Support Unit.
Both Lutu and Cusumano were previously assigned to HPD’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, a covert division that conducts surveillance and other special operations.
The CIU has been embroiled in controversy recently as several of its current and former members were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department along with former Police Chief Louis Kealoha in a wide-ranging public corruption investigation.
Kealoha and the officers are accused of working with his prosecutor wife, Katherine, to frame her uncle for the theft of their mailbox in an attempt to cover up other alleged crimes, including bank fraud and identity theft.
Ballard had said that one of her first moves as chief would be to reorganize the division and review its staffing in light of the controversy.
According to the complaint, Lutu was sent to the major crimes section of HPD’s Criminal Investigation Division while Cusumano was transferred to the Central Receiving Desk.
But what really seemed to rile the union more than the reassignments were Ballard’s words.
The union said the chief’s various comments to the media appeared to criticize SHOPO for its support of Kealoha and its defense of other officers who have been accused of misconduct.
One statement in particular that the union highlighted came from an October interview in which Ballard told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that HPD needed to do a better job investigating its own officers.
“Too many officers that are fired for just reasons are returned to work and some officers that are fired should not have been,” Ballard told the newspaper. “Discipline needs to be done fairly and with just cause.”
Still, much of the focus of the complaint related to Civil Beat’s December article about Maafala’s reassignment to Waikiki patrol:
Respondent Ballard’s false and disparaging remarks about SHOPO President Ma’afala painted him in a very sinister light and generated negative comments from the public about him, including comments that he was “corrupt,” “milking the system” and “when asked to volunteer he declines although he claims to care so much about officers in need.”
The complaint went on to note that there were others who came to Maafala’s defense:
In response to Civil Beat’s article, one of the Peer Support chaplains personally contacted SHOPO President Ma’afala after reading the article and offered a sincere “apology” for not making himself available to provide training and asked for “forgiveness.”
According to the complaint, SHOPO sent Ballard a letter Jan. 11 — nearly one month after the article was published — to give her a chance to retract her comments and issue a public, written apology to both Maafala and the union.
The union also wrote in bold underlined letters that she could say that her comments to Civil Beat were taken out of context or inaccurately reported, in which case the union would give her the “benefit of the doubt.”
If not, the union threatened to pursue its legal options, which could include filing a prohibited practices complaint and other civil remedies.
“We sincerely hope that as our new Chief of Police, we can begin our relationship on the right foot and work together to effectively repair HPD’s damaged public image,” the union said.
“However, your alleged attack on SHOPO and its President based on false information, false allegations and the disclosure of confidential and private information is unbecoming of HPD’s new leader and must be addressed immediately to mitigate the damages such acts have already caused.
“If given the chance, SHOPO looks forward to a productive and harmonious relationship with you and your new administration, and therefore would like to put this issue behind us as soon as possible.”
According to the complaint, Ballard responded with her own letter in which she said she has no intention of retracting her statements or denying she made them.
Among other things, the union wants the board to force Ballard and HPD to issue a public apology to Maafala and SHOPO for the “untrue and defamatory statements made to Civil Beat.”
The union also wants the board to find that Ballard and the department violated Maafala’s privacy rights. There’s also a request that any confidential information that might have been released be retrieved, although it’s unclear what that information might be.
In addition, the union wants HPD to pay $10,000 for each prohibited practices violation as well as cover any other costs, including attorneys’ fees.
Read SHOPO’s complaint here: