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Hawaii’s statewide police union filed a lawsuit last week aimed at Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and her November 2017 decision to reassign then-union president Tenari Maafala to a midnight patrol unit in Waikiki from his previous position as a counselor in a peer support unit.
The legal action seeks to overturn a January ruling from the Hawaii Labor Relations Board that found Ballard had the right as police chief to transfer Maafala, as well as three other union officials, to new positions within her department and then speak about it with the media.
The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers has argued — including in its latest legal filing — that the transfer was done against the officers’ will and violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
The union also argued that Ballard’s decision to talk to Civil Beat about the staffing move in December 2017 violated the officers’ privacy.
Union officials were particularly upset with how Ballard described the circumstances of Maafala’s transfer, saying that what Ballard told the media about misuse of overtime and his refusal to volunteer for the peer support unit was “patently false and defamatory.”
“Civil Beat’s article has led to a public outcry and harsh criticisms directed against SHOPO President Ma’afala and SHOPO,” SHOPO attorney Keani Alapa wrote.
“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 notes that Maafala, who has since retired from HPD after 30 years of service, never called in sick.
The case stems from Ballard’s decision to revamp the HPD’s peer support unit, which helps officers cope with trauma both on the job and in their personal lives. It was one of her first moves as the new chief.
Ballard was appointed after her predecessor, Louis Kealoha, was named as the target of a federal criminal probe into public corruption and abuse of power and forced to retire with a $250,000 severance payment. Kealoha has since been indicted along with his wife, former city prosecutor, Katherine Kealoha, and several Honolulu police officers.
In December 2017, Ballard told Civil Beat that she wanted to revamp the peer support unit, which included transferring Maafala to a new post in Waikiki.
Her decision also included transferring two other officers, Michael Tamashiro and Don Faumuina, who were assigned to peer support under Maafala’s watch. At the time, Faumuina was a director-at-large for the police union.
Ballard said that when the peer support program was launched in the 1990s it was mostly volunteer, and included a large number of officers. Over the years, she said it was pared to just three, Maafala, Tamashiro and Faumuina, who worked the job full-time.
There were issues with overtime in the unit, Ballard said, and it didn’t seem to be following along with the spirit of its mission, so she decided it was time for a change.
“I knew that the unit was not being run, in my opinion, the way that it was set up to do, so I wanted to back to the grassroots,” Ballard said at the time.
The union responded with a complaint to the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.
In the complaint, the union took issue with the transfer of Maafala and Faumuina as well as two other high-ranking union officials, Malcolm Lutu and Michael Cusumano, who had been part of HPD’s Criminal Intelligence Unit.
The CIU is at the center of the federal government’s corruption investigation into the Kealohas and several of its members have either pleaded guilty to criminal charges or are set to stand trial. Ballard had said that reorganizing the division was a top priority as police chief.
The complaint argued, among other things, that Ballard appeared to have it out for SHOPO, and that her various public comments appeared to be critical of the union’s backing of Kealoha and defense of other officers accused of misconduct.
The Hawaii Labor Relations Board didn’t buy the argument, and ruled against the union in January.
“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.’”
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