Darren Cachola, a Honolulu police officer who was caught on video in 2014 punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant, has been reinstated in his job, according to documents filed by the police union.
But his union doesn’t want the public to know why.
On Thursday, the Hawaii Labor Relations Board issued a temporary order prohibiting Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and city officials from releasing information relating to an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate Cachola.
The order came after the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers filed a complaint with the labor board on Tuesday to block the release of the information. In that complaint, SHOPO referred to the arbitrator’s decision which “reinstated the HPD officer who had been terminated.”
Cachola acknowledged in a message on Facebook Thursday to a Civil Beat reporter that he had been reinstated, but declined to be interviewed.
SHOPO asserted the labor board has jurisdiction over the matter because the police union contract states that disciplinary matters, including investigations and arbitrations, are to be kept confidential.
The question is whether the collective bargaining agreement provision can outweigh state law, which generally states that government information is public, although subject to a number of exceptions. Duane Pang, a deputy corporation counsel for Honolulu, argued that the confidentially provision of the police contract is void because it goes against the overarching state policy.
A hearing on the merits of the case is scheduled before the labor board in June. The issue on Thursday was whether to grant a temporary order to block Ballard from releasing the information in the meantime.
Ballard had planned to release the arbitration decision and investigation information to the public on Friday due in large part to the high-profile nature of the case.
“While we do not agree that the records should be withheld, we respect and will abide by the HLRB’s decision,” Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said in a statement.
But SHOPO’s attorney Keani Alapa argued that Cachola and other officers mentioned in the arbitration order and investigation could suffer irreparable harm if Ballard released the information and it turned out the release was prohibited. And the panel consisting of J.N. Musto and Sesnita A.D. Moepono sided with Alapa, despite Pang’s argument that the labor board didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.
The Cachola case drew intense media coverage because of the video apparently showing the officer repeatedly punching a woman in the head. The surveillance video went viral in 2014 and resulted in widespread calls for reform, specifically as it relates to addressing domestic violence.
But Civil Beat and other media organizations that have filed records requests for the arbitration documents will have to wait to obtain them.
Ballard said in February that the arbitrator had made a decision, but declined to discuss it at the time. The arbitration documents could shed light on what went into the decision.
The issue of closed-door arbitration proceedings goes beyond the Cachola case, said Sen. Laura Thielen. She noted that employees increasingly must sign contracts that require them to resolve employment disputes through arbitration, including complaints of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
“The concern I have about arbitration being confidential is that it can be used to cover up bad behavior and allow it to continue,” she said.
In addition, she said, if arbitration is being used increasingly instead of the courts, people need to be able to read decisions to understand the rules.
“I think it’s necessary that we publish arbitration decisions not only so we can have accountability, but also so that we can have future guidance,” she said.
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