- Special Projects
For at least the second time in as many years the Honolulu Police Department is trying to fire Sgt. Dennis Stone.
The veteran police officer has been a problem for the department for years, having been disciplined for suspected drunken driving and assaulting his daughter’s ex-boyfriend while he was handcuffed in the back of an HPD vehicle, something that ultimately resulted in Stone’s 20-day suspension in 2014.
But now it appears he’s in trouble again, according to a Civil Beat review of an HPD report submitted last week to the Hawaii Legislature.
In 2016, HPD wanted to fire Stone after he was arrested for running his subsidized vehicle into a guardrail while under the influence. But before that decision was final, he was again recommended for discharge by the department, this time in 2017, for driving in a “hazardous manner” with a revoked license.
Stone has appealed both attempts to fire him. And while he’s technically no longer working for the department, he still has a chance of getting his job back.
The HPD’s latest disciplinary report shows that at least three officers who were discharged by the department in recent years had their terminations overturned in 2017 while 14 others are awaiting final decisions.
Two officers who are back in uniform include Sterling Naki and Joshua Omoso; both officers who witnessed one of their colleagues shoot a bartender in the stomach.
According to HPD, the officers didn’t report the shooting and then later lied to investigators.
Each year, county police departments must tell state lawmakers how many officers are suspended or discharged in a given year for misconduct. The annual report is a trade-off that stems from a legislative decision in the mid-1990s that effectively protects bad cops from public scrutiny.
But the report to the Legislature leaves a lot to the imagination.
The summaries of officer wrongdoing don’t include many pertinent details, such as names or dates. This often makes public oversight of the police difficult at a time when the push for more accountability — at least nationally — is at its peak.
In HPD’s latest report to the Legislature, the department says it disciplined 43 officers for 36 different incidents with 10 of those officers being recommended for discharge.
The incidents range in severity from failing to submit a police report and not showing up to court when subpoenaed to sexual harassment of female officers and outright criminal activity.
In one case, an officer was discharged after he offered to help a prostitution suspect get out of trouble in exchange for sex.
Based on the facts contained in the report, that officer appears to be Maulia LaBarre, a former University of Hawaii volleyball player who was prosecuted by the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office and eventually convicted and sentenced to six months in jail for his attempted solicitation.
Another case involves an officer who was discharged after crashing his subsidized vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant and then lying to investigators. Again, the facts indicate that the officer is Sgt. Albert Lee, who was charged in October with driving under the influence and making a false report to law enforcement.
Four other officers were suspended for 10 to 20 days in relation to that incident. According to the report, they’re accused of failing to lead a thorough investigation of their colleague by not properly collecting evidence or remaining impartial during the criminal inquiry.
All five officers involved have appealed the disciplinary actions.
Here’s a list of the eight discharges that were upheld and finalized in 2017 with the names of the officer provided by HPD:
|Name||Summary of Findings|
|Aaron Roberts||Handcuffed the individual and drove him to a location where he threatened him. Damaged the individual’s property. Did not submit appropriate incident reports to document his actions during the incident.|
|Leslie Morris||Physically assaulted his wife during an argument. Was in possession of illegal narcotics and drug paraphernalia.|
|Richard Staszyn||Visited multiple physicians/practitioners and provided false information in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for the same/similar controlled substances. Filled every prescription, illegally possessing large quantities of those controlled substances.|
|George Lockett||Was verbally abusive and used coarse language and excessive profanity toward his wife. Threatened his wife and made unwanted phone calls and sent unwanted text messages.|
|Maulia Labarre||Offered to use police powers to help a female suspect in exchange for sexual favors. Failed to remain impartial. Used the departmental computer and provided confidential information to the female suspect. Devised a scheme to defraud and deprive through bribery.|
|Myles Yoshimoto||Entered a van without permission and maliciously used physical force against the occupant. Used overbearing and oppressive conduct while under the color of his police authority. Failed to initiate and submit a police report to document his actions. Used his HPD-issued electric gun in an unlawful and unreasonable manner and failed to notify a supervisor.|
|Estaban Garcia||While off duty, made unwanted sexual advances toward a female, including remarks and physical contact of a sexual nature.|
|Khanh Le||Concealed items and did not pay for them prior to exiting a retail establishment. Used a credit card in another person’s name without permission.|
The report highlights just how difficult it can be for the police department to discipline an officer and make it stick.
Of the 46 new incidents listed in the 2017 report, 26 are still in the process of being appealed via a union-negotiated grievance and arbitration procedure.
But it can take years for those cases to finally resolve. For instance, the latest report shows it took nearly three years for the department to uphold a three-day suspension for sexual harassment that was levied in 2014.
Dozens of other cases from recent years are either pending a union grievance or in arbitration. Two of the most high profile include Darren Cachola and Teddy Van Lerberghe.
Cachola made headlines in 2014 when he was caught on a surveillance video repeatedly striking his girlfriend inside a Waipahu restaurant. He was never arrested or charged.
The department’s response to the incident under then-Police Chief Louis Kealoha sparked widespread backlash, particularly among women lawmakers, many of whom wanted to see HPD revamp how it responds to domestic violence both within the ranks and the community.
Van Lerberghe, meanwhile, was indicted last year on multiple counts of sexual assault of a minor. He’s scheduled to go to trial on the charges later this year.
Both the Cachola and Van Lerberghe cases are still in arbitration, according to HPD.
The annual reports to the Legislature have taken on new meaning in recent years after largely being ignored by lawmakers and the public.
In 2013, Civil Beat published a multi-part investigative series that found that once a week on average between 2000 and 2012 a Honolulu police officer was either suspended or fired for misconduct.
The series made several others findings, including the fact that most of the misconduct was serious in nature and often criminal.
Most officers were allowed to keep their jobs despite their troubles, some of which included criminal prosecution. The 2013 analysis found that of the 22 officers HPD gave discharge notices to between 2000 and 2012, eight were able to remain on the police force while another two were allowed to retire.
Secrecy blankets most of the process. Names are not included in the reports, and the summaries omit pertinent details, including time and place. Often the reports are so vague that they leave the reader guessing as to what really happened.
For example, in 2010, one HPD officer was suspended for 626 days without pay. The summary said that individual “hindered a federal investigation” yet HPD refused to release to Civil Beat any more details about the case, including the officer’s name.
Civil Beat’s 2013 investigation led to renewed interest in police reform in Hawaii, and resulted in numerous attempts to change the state’s public records law to allow more disclosure of misconduct.
A specific exemption in the Uniform Information Practices Act states that identities and details of misdeeds of county police officers can be released to the public only if the officer is terminated for misconduct and once their firing is deemed final, for instance, following arbitration.
Names and disciplinary files of officers who are suspended are kept secret.
Only county police officers come under the exemption. All other public employees in the state who are suspended for misconduct can have their names and details of their wrongdoing made public under the state’s public records law.
The exemption for police officers was approved by lawmakers in the mid-1990s under political pressure from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
A handful of lawmakers have pushed unsuccessfully in recent years to get rid of the exemption.
The Legislature did pass a bill in 2014 that requires HPD and other county police departments to include more details in the annual reports to the Legislature, such as whether an officer was a repeat offender, if the disciplinary action was appealed via the union grievance process, and whether prosecutors were notified.
Civil Beat also filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of withholding the names of suspended police officers and other details.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that police officers do not have an absolute right to privacy when it comes to misconduct. The justices said the public’s interest must be weighed against the privacy interests of the officer.
The case was remanded to the Circuit Court where a judge is in the process of performing that balancing test in 12 cases of officer misconduct in which individuals were suspended for 20 days or more.
Read HPD’s 2017 report here: