Honolulu Police Department Sgt. Darren Cachola has a troubling history with allegations of abuse spanning almost his entire HPD career.
Over the past 17 years he’s been accused of violently assaulting multiple women, including his wife, a girlfriend and the mother of his child.
Throughout it all he’s been able to keep his job as a police officer, even though police officials have fired him once. A union arbitrator gave him back his job in a decision that has been kept under wraps while the police union fights to keep it from being made public.
The most recent incident occurred last week. Cachola was arrested on April 24 by HPD and charged with two counts of harassment and one count of abuse of a household member.
While HPD has refused to release details surrounding the arrest, Eric Seitz, an attorney representing Cachola’s wife, says the charges are based on an early morning attack against his client the day before.
Coincidentally, Seitz filed a lawsuit that same day against Cachola, HPD and several officers in connection with an another alleged attack dating two years earlier. Seitz says Cachola choked the woman and other officers who responded tried to cover up the assault.
At the time in 2017, Cachola was trying to get his job back at HPD after a previous domestic violence incident — this one in 2014 –that had resulted in his termination. That one was highly publicized — he’d been caught on tape punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant. An arbitrator ultimately reinstated him in 2018.
According to the recent lawsuit, Cachola’s wife called 911 after he drunkenly strangled her. When officers arrived they convinced her not to file charges and to write the following statement: “I got into an argument with my husband, I have no injuries, thank you.”
Seitz says when he filed the lawsuit last week he had no idea his client was again the victim of alleged abuse by Cachola.
“This guy is not deterred by anything, and the reason he’s not deterred is because he says, ‘I’m a police officer, they’re going to protect me,’” Seitz said.
It’s a three-tiered problem, he said.
The police department doesn’t respond appropriately, the union fights like hell to defend the officer and the Honolulu Police Commission — the sole independent oversight agency that’s supposed to be a check on problem officers — doesn’t have much power when it comes to discipline.
“As long as institutionally these kinds of abusers are protected and defended it’s going to go on until someone is killed,” he added.
“These guys have guns. These guys are trained to kill. As far as I’m concerned the police department and the union are enabling them by placing them out there on the street at great risk to the public.”
Darren Cachola captured the public spotlight in 2014 when he was caught on surveillance video punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant.
He would soon become the symbol for HPD’s struggle to address domestic violence both within its own ranks and outside the department when officers responded to domestic calls.
Images of Cachola taking full-bodied swings at his girlfriend sparked outrage in the community and reverberated in the halls of Honolulu Hale and the Hawaii State Capitol, particularly among women lawmakers.
The Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus immediately demanded answers from then-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.
Although police responded to the restaurant, Cachola was never arrested or charged. The responding officers didn’t write any police reports. Instead, they gave him a ride home because he was too drunk to drive.
Kealoha said at the time that there wasn’t enough evidence to support an arrest. He then kicked the case over to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro for a second opinion.
Kaneshiro’s office convened a grand jury that refused to indict Cachola. Witnesses at the restaurant the night of the fight refused to testify, prosecutors said at the time.
And Cachola’s girlfriend, who was called to the grand jury, also denied Cachola was acting out of line. She said the two of them were just playing around.
That didn’t stop Kealoha from firing Cachola in 2015 and disciplining the officers who responded to the incident.
But the termination didn’t stick. Cachola with the help of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers appealed his discharge through a grievance process allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s embarrassing.” — Honolulu Police Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan
For nearly three years the appeal played out behind closed doors, and in 2018 — a year after Kealoha himself was forced out and indicted for public corruption — HPD Chief Susan Ballard announced Cachola was getting his job back.
Not only would he be reinstated, but he was also owed back pay. According to HPD, an arbitrator had reduced his firing to a six-month suspension.
The union, meanwhile, has tried to block access to the arbitrator’s decision by filing legal challenges in court that have been opposed by both HPD and Civil Beat.
Honolulu Police Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan says she’s not yet allowed to discuss the results of Cachola’s arbitration due to SHOPO’s ongoing legal challenge.
Like others in the community, she says she’s struggling to comprehend the recent allegations against Cachola and why he’s still on the police force.
She also said she’s disappointed that another officer, Cpl. Justin Castro, was arrested last week on domestic violence charges.
“It’s frustrating to see Sgt. Cachola back in the news and it’s frustrating to have him repeatedly tarnishing the reputation of the department,” Sheehan said.
“It’s embarrassing. It begs the bigger question of whether HPD beat officers, the prosecutor’s office, judges, probation officers and even the state legislature view violence against a woman as an unfortunate incident or a violation of the basic human right to live safely. This isn’t shoplifting, people.”
Sheehan was appointed to the police commission by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in 2016 in part because of her background advocating for domestic violence victims.
She participated in the legislative hearings that resulted after the 2014 Cachola video surfaced and even then urged stricter enforcement of the laws that were already on the books.
Still, with Cachola’s arrest she said she’s jaded by the lack of progress.
In addition to Cachola and Castro, two other HPD officers were arrested in April and charged with misdemeanors related to incidents of domestic violence.
Troy Stewart, a nine-year veteran officer was arrested April 21 at Honolulu International Airport near the Hawaiian Airlines baggage claim after he allegedly shoved a woman, according to news reports.
HPD would not reveal the name of the fourth officer.
All four officers have been stripped of their police powers and reassigned to administrative jobs.
At a press conference Tuesday, Ballard said criminal and administrative charges are pending against three of the four officers.
State prosecutors have declined to pursue the charge of abuse of a household member against one of the officers, but administrative charges against him are still pending, Ballard said.
If any of the officers are convicted, Ballard said they “will more than likely lose their job.” Domestic abusers are prohibited from possessing a firearm under a federal law passed by Congress in 1996.
Approximately five to seven HPD officers face domestic violence charges in a typical year, according to Ballard. The four April incidents mark the first domestic violence charges against HPD officers this year.
“Any time an officer is involved in domestic violence we take it very seriously,” Ballard said, adding that she has started addressing the topic of domestic violence, as well as infidelity, when she meets with officers during regular reviews.
Ballard said the department is also ramping up voluntary resilience training and partnering with the police union to examine other ways to support police officers in avoiding domestic violence.
Numerous bills have been introduced in the Legislature over the years to improve the prosecution of domestic violence in Hawaii and provide support for victims of abusers, but hardly any have become law.
The same goes for most legislation seeking to address officer misconduct and the lack of transparency that surrounds it.
That’s why Sheehan says she’s curious to see if Seitz’s lawsuit will go anywhere.
The legal action targets Cachola and his pocketbook directly, meaning that if a jury sides with the plaintiff justice won’t have to come from the institutions that repeatedly fall short of holding abusers accountable.
In 2002, six years after Darren Cachola joined HPD, the mother of one of Cachola’s children filed for a temporary restraining order against him citing a series of violent episodes, from choking and kicking to biting and forced sex.
According to court records, the woman said Cachola would harass her both at home and at work. She said on one occasion he even kicked through a metal security door and threw beer bottles at her home.
“He has a jealousy problem,” she wrote. “I think that if I begin a relationship he will come after me. He has attacked people for just looking or talking to me.”
A judge initially granted the restraining order on June 21, 2002 and made sure a copy was sent to Cachola’s commanding officer at HPD.
“If this restraining order is granted, Darren will lose his position and possibly lose his job.” — Katherine Kealoha
A hearing was set for July and Cachola hired Katherine Kealoha, who was then an attorney in private practice, to represent him in the case.
Kealoha is the wife of the former police chief. Today, the couple currently faces a slew of federal felonies related to corruption and abuse of power.
But back then, in court papers, Katherine Kealoha accused Cachola’s ex-girlfriend of lying and trying to manipulate the system to get Cachola into trouble at HPD.
Kealoha then described Cachola as a caring father who would do anything to see his kid. She also offered two character witnesses to testify about how Cachola is “physically big in stature, but is very soft at heart.”
“If this restraining order is granted, Darren will lose his position and possibly lose his job,” Kealoha wrote. “Darren has not hurt, harmed or threatened (her) in any way; yet she has been able to control the very job that Darren has worked so hard to get.
“Darren’s employment is directly and adversely affected by this restraining order, which is not warranted.”
On July 2, 2002, the temporary restraining order was dissolved, but the conflict was not over.
Seven years later, in 2009, Cachola and the woman, who had since gotten married to each other, filed competing restraining orders.
The woman said Cachola had continued to physically abuse her while Cachola said she was using the opportunity to make false complaints against him in an attempt to threaten his job.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard has made domestic violence a top-tier issue since taking over the position, although some advocates have said her department has fallen short.
Ballard declined an interview earlier with Civil Beat about Darren Cachola’s recent arrest. And at the press conference Tuesday, she wouldn’t elaborate on the specific allegations against him.
She said any change in the process covering discharge and the officer’s ability to file a grievance would have to come through the Legislature.
SHOPO president Malcolm Lutu also did not respond to Civil Beat’s requests for comment.
But in an interview with KHON2 News last week he said the allegations described in the latest lawsuit against Cachola are false and that the other officers named in the complaint were cleared of any wrongdoing.
As for Cachola getting his job back, Lutu said that’s just how the process works.
“That opens the door for SHOPO to actually get these guys reinstated or get their days back,” he said.
Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyte contributed to this report.
Studies have shown that when local journalism disappears, government financing costs go up, fewer people run for public office, elected officials become less responsive to their constituents, and voter turnout decreases. Our small nonprofit newsroom works hard every day to present local news in a deep and transparent way, without fear or favor. We also rely on donations from readers like you to keep us afloat. The more support we receive; the stronger, more sustainable our journalism becomes; the more accountable we are to you. Please consider supporting our Honolulu Civil Beat with a tax-deductible gift.