Following a lawsuit accusing a Honolulu police officer of abusing his power for personal vengeance, the Honolulu Police Commission is asking the police chief to implement a conflict of interest policy.

Four commission members voted on Wednesday to support that request. Chair Shannon Alivado and Carrie Okinaga voted against it.

Judge Michael Broderick Charter Commissioner at Honolulu Hale meeting.
Michael Broderick was appointed to the Police Commission this year by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Commissioner Michael Broderick sparked the discussion by pointing to the case of Officer Kirk Uemura. The officer is being sued by the family of a teenager who Uemura allegedly wrongfully arrested because the teen was in conflict with Uemura’s son at school, according to the lawsuit complaint.

Uemura was disciplined for his behavior but still patrols Windward Oahu, according to the department.

The broader city ethics code – which applies to all city employees, including police officers – does address “fair and equal treatment” and conflicts of interest. However, the lawsuit highlights the fact HPD itself does not have a clear policy prohibiting officers from using their authority to intervene in cases in which they have a personal stake.

Broderick cited a letter to Ballard from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit, stating that HPD’s policy doesn’t provide adequate guidance to prevent conflicts of interest.

Honolulu Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado and Commissioner Jerry Gibson.
Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado voted against a measure that asked HPD to establish a conflict of interest policy. It passed 4-2. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“The prohibition must be explicit,” said Broderick, a former family court judge.

Broderick added that there are numerous police departments with clear ethics policies on this topic, including Seattle, Boston, San Fransisco, San Diego, Austin, Los Angeles and Oakland.

“I’m asking my fellow commissioners to join me in asking Chief Ballard to revise the HPD standards of conduct policy to expressly prohibit employees from actions that create or give the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Broderick said.

Okinaga immediately expressed concern about the lawsuit and that changing the policy would indicate that the commission is “drawing some kind of conclusion” about the case. She also said she couldn’t take a stance on the policy since she had never reviewed it before.

“You indicated you don’t know what the current policy is,” Broderick said. “And I already read it to you.”

Okinaga responded there might be other parts of HPD’s policies that could be relevant. Alivado said there are other sections of HPD’s policy and the city code that “allude to some sort of conflict of interest statement.”

Broderick said it’s unrealistic to expect police officers to do “legal research” to figure out what they can and cannot do.

“You mentioned the word ‘allude,’” he said. “There is nothing specifically in the police code of ethics that prohibits employees from actions to create or give the appearance of a conflict of interest. So, I respectfully disagree with you.”

Commissioners Richard Parry, Jerry Gibson and Doug Chin supported Broderick’s motion.

“I think there is a great deal of value in saying this upfront in a simple way,” Parry said.

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