Honolulu Civil Beat needs your help to raise $100,000 in reader support by September 1. Every dollar raised strengthens our nonprofit newsroom!
Over the past three days we have raised $27,000 from 518 donors. Mahalo!
The Honolulu Police Commission ousted its outspoken chairwoman, Loretta Sheehan, on Wednesday, a move that could change the dynamic of how the civilian oversight body oversees the Honolulu Police Department.
Sheehan, an attorney and former federal prosecutor, was voted out 5-2 and replaced with Shannon Alivado, the government relations manager for Hawaiian Electric, who laid out a different vision for the commission. Sheehan’s sole supporter was Steve Levinson, a retired Hawaii Supreme Court justice.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Alivado was the director of Waimanalo Health Center, a position she previously held.
“I don’t want to dwell on the past,” Alivado said.
The focus should be more on the new chief and how she’s doing, Alivado said. The commission should also have more aloha, she added.
Sheehan said the commission should remain vigilant on public corruption and be tough on legal issues.
The Honolulu Police Department has been the focus of a major federal Justice Department corruption investigation since 2014, centering around former chief Louis Kealoha.
In June, a federal jury found him guilty of conspiracy and obstruction charges for framing his wife’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of the couple’s mailbox from their Kahala home. In that conspiracy, two other HPD officers were found guilty at trial and two others pleaded guilty earlier on.
The former chief also pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in a separate federal criminal case. He remains out on bail until sentencing, which is scheduled for March.
Sheehan was the only commissioner to vote to fire Kealoha instead of approving a $250,000 retirement deal, which the city now wants to sue him to get back.
She drafted a letter laying out various charges against the former chief that she believed warranted his removal from his post, including dwindling morale in the department, excessive use of force and HPD’s struggles in addressing domestic violence within the ranks.
“I don’t think we can forget the past,” said Levinson, who re-nominated Sheehan. “Because the public doesn’t want us to do that.”
The public expects the commission to be aware of problems within the department, he said.
“The only way the commission can keep as abreast as it can on the state of the department is by asking questions, and sometimes asking probing questions and sometimes asking questions that may not be particularly welcome,” he said, suggesting Sheehan was the one to do so.
Shannon Alivado said she thinks the police commission needs more aloha.
Alivado was nominated by Carrie Okinaga, a former city attorney who now works as the vice president of legal affairs for the University of Hawaii. Okinaga said she wanted leadership that focused on the future instead of the past, and helping Chief Susan Ballard strive for greatness. She said she appreciated all the work that Sheehan has done to help restore the credibility of HPD.
“I want to help focus on the powers that we do have as a commission and really focus on the things like filling vacancies, working smarter, getting a full budget, getting a different budget, whatever it is that typically commissions have been able to focus on,” Okinaga said. “That, for me, is what my nomination is all about.”
Commissioner Karen Chang said that what happened in the past was “unfortunate.”
“We learned a lesson,” she said. “Publicly and privately. We all have.”
Sheehan, whose term on the commission expired on Dec. 31, 2019, said in an interview Thursday that she welcomed the change in leadership, adding that it is healthy for an organization.
“I’m far more comfortable acting in the role of a watchdog,” she said.
As the chair, she had to be more neutral and bring all parties together. “Shannon’s strength is that she does act with more grace and aloha than I do. I’m a litigator,” she added.
Former state Sen. Will Espero, who supported Sheehan when she wanted to fire Kealoha, agreed that a change in leadership is not necessarily a bad thing, but said the commission should not move on from the past.
The corruption was a major breach of public trust in law enforcement and it was “extremely damaging,” he said.
“There’s still a lot to be done,” he said. “And the story’s not even over.”
Alexander Zannes, a spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell, said Sheehan would remain on the commission until Caldwell either reappoints her or makes an alternative appointment.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.