Three Honolulu police officers were recommended for discharge for driving while intoxicated last year and another for having sex while on duty, but because of a lengthy arbitration process, it’s not clear if any of them will actually be fired.
In fact, that arbitration process meant one of those officers was only put on a six-month suspension instead of being discharged, according to a new report by the Honolulu Police Department to the Hawaii Legislature.
In all, 21 HPD officers were suspended or recommended for discharge last year in 21 cases. That’s down from 43 officers in 36 incidents in 2017. The disciplined officers are not named in these reports.
The off-duty officer who was put on a six-month suspension drove a personal vehicle while intoxicated, hit a traffic light post and bus shelter and then refused to be tested for alcohol.
Another officer charged with a DUI was involved in a motor vehicle collision and fled the scene. The third rear-ended another car.
The officer recommended for discharge for having sex on the job was also accused of second- and-fourth degree sexual assault, the former being a Class B felony.
An HPD spokeswoman said that the names of the three officers still facing discharge can’t be released because their cases are all pending in the department’s appeals process.
Along with the four officers initially recommended for discharge, four others are also appealing their discipline.
Other offenses resulted in one-day suspensions of officers. That was the case with a cop who made inappropriate comments that violated the department’s sexual harassment policy, and another who was involved in multiple car collisions in one year.
Another cop threatened to punch a family member. The report says that officer was accused of first- and second-degree terroristic threatening and for false swearing for failing to correctly serve a court order. That officer was also only suspended for one day.
Each of the state’s four county police departments are required to submit annual reports to the Legislature on officer misconduct.
On the Big Island, one officer was recommended for discharge for assaulting a juvenile and another for failing a drug test. No reports had been filed by Kauai or Maui by midday Friday, even though the deadline was Thursday.
Punishment Often Lightened On Appeal
Disciplinary actions can be appealed through a union grievance and arbitration process, and eight of the arbitration cases that closed last year resulted in the officer being suspended instead of discharged. Some of the cases originally occurred a year or two earlier but were resolved in 2018 and appear on the latest misconduct summary.
One of those officers was Darren Cachola, who in 2014 was caught on a surveillance video repeatedly striking his girlfriend inside a Waipahu restaurant. He was never arrested or charged.
Cachola was put on a six-month suspension instead of being fired.
HPD and city officials agreed to make public Cachola’s arbitration report but the police union went to court to block release. Civil Beat is party to the litigation and is continuing to try to obtain the report and investigation records through the court.
An unidentified officer was recommended for discharge after he slapped and kicked his girlfriend but instead served a 20-day suspension. And another who caused numerous injuries to his ex-wife got a six-month suspension.
An officer in 2015 faced no disciplinary action after he beat a suspect with his baton, causing serious bodily injury.
“The arbitrator determined that the HPD did not present substantial evidence or proof that the force used by the employee was unreasonable,” the report says.
One officer was allowed to retire instead of being fired for driving his department-subsidized vehicle while drunk, crashing it into a median guardrail, and then lying during an investigation.
Another off-duty cop who rear-ended a car while drunk, injuring its occupants, and then fled served a one-year suspension instead of being discharged.
An officer who left his post to attend a family party where he got drunk before getting into a crash in his department-subsidized vehicle, then lied during an investigation, was put on a 10-month suspension instead of being discharged.
Another officer was suspended last year for 60 days instead of being fired for failing to submit confiscated drugs and paraphernalia into evidence.
The firings of some officers were upheld in arbitration, including one accused of first- and third-degree sexual assault of an underage relative.
Another was fired for robbing a store twice and then failing a drug test.
Suit Seeking Names Still Pending
Civil Beat sued HPD in 2013 over the legality of withholding the names of suspended police officers and other details. The case reached the state Supreme Court, which remanded it to Circuit Court.
The justices said the public’s interest must be weighed against the privacy interests of the officers. A Circuit Court judge is still performing that balancing test in 12 cases of officer misconduct in which individuals were suspended for 20 days or more.
A bill proposed by Rep. Scott Nishimoto this year would require each county police department to disclose the identity of any officer who is discharged or suspended. It has yet to be heard in the state House.
Blaze Lovell is spending a year as a local investigations fellow with The New York Times. He was previously a reporter for Civil Beat. Born and raised on Oahu, Lovell is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.