The Honolulu Police Department disciplined more officers in 2020 than it has in at least three years, according to a new summary of misconduct filed with the Legislature on Monday.
The department reprimanded, suspended or fired 56 officers in 58 different cases in 2020, a year in which the conduct of police across the U.S. drew intense scrutiny after several high profile cases of police killings on the mainland.
Criminal investigations were started in nearly half of the cases, according to HPD, though the report to the 2021 Legislature notes that initiating a criminal case doesn’t necessarily mean a prosecution followed.
The summary shows that the prosecutor’s office was notified in 14 of those cases.
The department fired 20 of those officers, though 10 cases are still going through a grievance and arbitration process while 10 officers were ultimately discharged.
County police departments are required to disclose instances of misconduct in annual reports to the Legislature. The Legislature amended the law in 2020 and this is the first year that the departments are required to publish the names of officers whose suspensions or terminations have been finalized and cleared the arbitration and grievance process.
HPD reported the names of 30 officers who were suspended or discharged in 2020, including two officers whose cases were pending from previous years.
Most of the officers named in the new HPD report were not previously named in news reports or lawsuits involving the cases for which they were disciplined.
The most high profile cases on the list include Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Niall Silva, both of whom were members of the Criminal Investigation Unit and involved in the corruption and conspiracy case that resulted in federal charges against former Police Chief Louis Kealoha, his former deputy prosecutor wife and a number of officers and others. Nguyen and Silva have both been convicted in connection with the federal investigation.
This year’s HPD summary also includes former Ofc. John Rabago, who was sentenced to four years in prison for forcing a man to lick a urinal.
The report also lists about a dozen cases of officers falsifying records in relation to DUI roadblocks but gives no details as to what actually took place. Ofcs. John Bennett and John Rathjen were discharged and the cases sent to the prosecutor’s office.
Two other officers, Darius Evangelista and Sean Taoka, were also discharged for similar incidents, though summaries of those cases only note that they “falsified information on required federal grant documents” for operating those roadblocks.
Other officers involved in similar cases were suspended between five days and 10 days.
It’s not clear what the federal grant required of HPD, if the report describes multiple incidents and if the cases all occurred last year or in previous years. The four officers discharged in relation to falsifying roadblock documents all retired before they could be formally discharged, according to the report.
A spokeswoman for the HPD declined to provide more information about the cases other than to say they were the result of two investigations.
Several officers were suspended in 2020 for abuse of a household member or instances of assault.
One was Officer Troy Stewart, who was arrested in April 2019 on suspicion of domestic abuse. The department fired Stewart, who was accused of shoving his girlfriend to the ground at the Honolulu International Airport, but his discharge was reduced to a 115 day suspension through the union grievance process, according to the report.
The officer was investigated for abuse of a family member, and the case was sent to the prosecutor.
While the annual reports to the Legislature now include names, the reports are still sparse on details that could give the public context for many of the cases.
For example, the report says that David Oh “conducted personal business by engaging in sexual activity while on duty and under the color of police authority.” He was unnamed in previous reports as his case moved through the arbitration process.
Oh’s case was finalized within the last year, according to the new report.
More information about Oh can be found in court records. In 2017, Oh allegedly sexually assaulted a woman while responding to a possible domestic violence incident. The woman sued in 2019, and a trial is set for August.
Last year, lawmakers passed Act 47, which removed an exemption in Hawaii’s records law that shielded details on officer misconduct from the public. The new law also requires that police departments disclose the names of officers who have been disciplined.
In November, Hawaii’s police union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, which has fought for years to keep the names of disciplined officers hidden from the public, filed lawsuits in an attempt to block the publication of officer names on the legislative disciplinary reports until discipline has become final and have the law declared unconstitutional.
An Oahu judge already rejected most of the union’s arguments in December, though a hearing on the disclosure of names is scheduled for March 3.
Like Honolulu, the Kauai Police Department’s report to the Legislature includes officer names in cases where the disciplinary action is final. Hawaii County initially submitted a report without the names but now Hawaii Police Chief Paul Ferreira said in a statement that his department will submit an updated report to the Legislature that includes the names.
Read the disciplinary report below.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell