Mayor, Police Chief Owe Public Answers On Surveillance Scheme - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell, Julia Steele, Lee Cataluna, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


It reads like the plot of a movie: The Honolulu mayor’s office asked police to tail the city’s medical examiner, supposedly to find out if he was involved with drugs, even as the doctor was clashing with the administration over management of a body-stuffed morgue infested with rats.

But it turns out the only stimuli the medical examiner says he was taking were nicotine and energy drinks.

The story, which Civil Beat broke Monday, comes just three weeks after a former Honolulu police chief and his wife, a deputy prosecutor, were sentenced to prison for public corruption. Amazingly, the Kealoha case involved misusing the same secretive investigative team that tracked Dr. Christopher Happy.

As of this writing Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his managing director Roy Amemiya, who were unhappy with Happy’s performance, haven’t said anything about the surveillance except to confirm it happened.

Police Chief Susan Ballard, who succeeded Louis Kealoha with promises to mend HPD’s broken ways, hasn’t spoken publicly, either, while her second in command — Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy — acknowledged the surveillance operation but claimed at first to blank on the details before sending Civil Beat a fuller yet still vague account in a written statement.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell congratulated new Police Chief Susan Ballard after her she was sworn in in 2017. We’d like to hear from both of them why the city’s medical examiner was spied on.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

As for Happy, who resigned over a year ago citing family reasons, he describes the 2019 covert monitoring as “bizarre” and “disconcerting.”

Rightly so, the Honolulu Police Commission wants answers from Ballard. But it should happen sooner than Jan. 6, when the commission is planning to question Ballard about the operation.

And Caldwell, who terms out Jan. 2 and is considering a run for governor, should come clean now. Perhaps there are good reasons for the surveillance, but if so, the public has not been given a full explanation.

For now it appears that the reputation of Happy, who was the city’s highest-paid employee, has been unnecessarily sullied.

It also appears that HPD’s Intelligence Enforcement Unit was used for purposes beyond its scope. Under Kealoha, what was then called the Criminal Intelligence Unit was part of a long history of scandal and corruption.

If it turns out that police commissioners conclude further investigation is called for, why wait? And are there other inappropriate or outrageous operations by the IEU?

Ballard rightly revamped and renamed the Criminal Intelligence Unit upon taking the HPD reins.

But the early hopes that the new chief would restore public confidence in the department have been tarnished by this latest incident and others such as the excessive overtime paid some officers and yet more disclosures of misconduct.

It all goes back to something this news site has been calling for for nearly a decade: transparency and accountability from Honolulu’s finest.

We’re still waiting. So are the people of the City and County of Honolulu.


Read this next:

Lee Cataluna: The Threat Of State Furloughs Clouds A New Year


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell, Julia Steele, Lee Cataluna, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Mayor, why don’t you please aim you efforts toward these illegal fireworks. Starting with its initial arrival at the docks then tasking HPD with ‘green harvest like’ intervention in the community. Me and my pets feel like we’ve been in a war zone these past months. Please restore our Paradise!

Oceanlover · 3 weeks ago

In Hawaii the mischief always and everywhere starts at the top - the elected officials and high level appointees.  Look there first.

Sally · 3 weeks ago

The Mayor and Police Chief owe the public answers on the surveillance of Dr. Happy, but their silence shows that they have no answers.

sleepingdog · 3 weeks ago

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