Hawaii’s labor board has dismissed a complaint against Honolulu’s police chief that accused her of trying to undermine the police union’s president by reassigning him from a peer support unit to midnight patrol duty in Waikiki, then talking to Civil Beat about it.

In 2017, shortly after taking over as Honolulu’s top cop, Police Chief Susan Ballard transferred Sgt. Tenari Ma’afala and four other officers to new positions.

Ma’afala, who had been working in the Peer Support Unit, at the time was also president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. The other three, also transferred against their will, were also union leaders: SHOPO Vice President Malcolm Lutu and  Secretary Michael Cusumano and Director-at-Large Don Faumuina, who both worked with Maafala in the peer support unit.

In a story for Civil Beat, Ballard explained the transfer of Ma’afala as an effort to revamp the peer support unit. She believed the unit wasn’t functioning as it had been designed to do and officers were possibly misusing overtime.

Ma’afala filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, contending his transfer was a violation of SHOPO’s collective bargaining agreement. He also alleged Ballard’s statements about potential problems in the unit should not have been shared publicly.

Then-SHOPO President Tenari Ma’afala said he had no problem being transferred to night patrol in Waikiki, the labor board wrote when dismissing his complaint.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a ruling issued Thursday, the HLRB said the case turned on whether Ballard made the work changes to damage Ma’afala’s ability to lead the union.

“At the core of these arguments, SHOPO is asking the Board to conclude that Chief Ballard’s statements about the PSU and Maʻafala’s leadership of the PSU were consciously, knowingly, and deliberately made with the intention of undermining Maʻafala in his role as SHOPO president,” the three-judge panel wrote. “Based on the evidence presented to the Board, the Board cannot make such a determination.”

To the contrary, the board said, the change was merely a personnel change.

“The evidence shows that Chief Ballard simply reassigned these Officers,” the board wrote. “There was no evidence that in doing so, Chief Ballard made any ‘threat of reprisal or force or promise of benefit.’

“Additionally,” the board’s order continued, “as noted above, the only one of the Officers to testify, Maʻafala, stated that he had no problem with the transfer, and he did not state that the transfer in any way prohibited him from continuing as SHOPO President. Therefore, the Board must find against SHOPO.”

Ma’afala retired in October 2018 after nearly 30 years on the department. He’d been president of the union for 18 years.

Ma’afala was replaced as SHOPO president by Lutu.

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