In September 2014, Honolulu residents were confronted with grainy surveillance video of Honolulu police Sgt. Darren Cachola pummeling his girlfriend inside a Waipahu restaurant.

The video sparked widespread outrage, particularly among women legislators, and called into question how the nation’s 20th largest police department confronts domestic violence. Cachola was eventually fired.

Now, nearly four years later, the police department is set to make public an arbitration decision that could give Cachola his job back along with years of back pay.

The Honolulu Police Department has struggled with how best to respond to domestic violence within the ranks for many years.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Hawaii state Sen. Laura Thielen, who’s been an advocate for victims of domestic abuse and stricter oversight of police, said if Cachola is allowed to return to work it could send the wrong message to the community about whether police officers are truly being held accountable for their actions.

“To me the department was correct in terminating him,” Thielen said. “Because for a law enforcement officer to be behaving in that way, to lose control to that extent, raises a lot of concerns.”

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission in February that the arbitrator’s decision on Cachola had been finalized, but she refused at the time to discuss any details publicly, saying there was a 45-day “gag order.”

HPD officials say the decision will be released this week, but have not divulged more information.

Records related to police misconduct are notoriously difficult to obtain in Hawaii, and arbitration decisions are no different.

The hope among transparency advocates is that the documents will shed some light on how HPD conducted its investigation into Cachola, and whether the arbitrator believed it was fair given HPD’s history of leniency with others suspected of domestic violence.

Disciplinary data compiled by Civil Beat shows that from 2000 to 2016 the department either suspended or terminated 42 officers for domestic violence related offenses.

Most offenses resulted in suspensions, with 10 officers, including Cachola, being recommended for discharge. Seven of those 10 discharge recommendations came after the Cachola video surfaced in 2014.

Brian Black, of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said he’s glad HPD is planning to release the arbitrator’s decision regarding Cachola’s punishment given the high-profile nature of the case.

Black has argued for years that the state’s public records law allows police disciplinary files to be made public; it’s just the department doesn’t do it. He said public scrutiny is particularly important in this case since it played out both in politics and the press.

“Darren Cachola’s sitution has become the touchstone for many questions of domestic violence at HPD,” Black said. “And this case speaks to many more issues beyond the individual circumstances.”

A number of questions had been raised about how HPD and the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office responded to the Cachola incident.

The responding officers the night of the alleged assault did not arrest Cachola or file any reports about the incident as is required by policy. A subsequent investigation by the department did not turn up enough evidence to make an arrest or forward charges to city prosecutors.

Former HPD chief Louis Kealoha, who has since been indicted on federal criminal charges, asked Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro to review the case. But he also made clear that he would not cave to political pressure.

Kaneshiro decided not to pursue charges after presenting evidence before a grand jury.

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