The former Maui police chief involved in a hit-and-run accident last year was properly investigated by his own officers who appropriately concluded the accident was a civil matter, not a criminal case, a new report on the incident concludes.
Whether former Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu could still face criminal charges even though he recently retired is an issue that is expected to be discussed when the Maui Police Commission meets with an investigator on the case this week.
The investigation, conducted by the Honolulu Police Commission to avoid a conflict of interest, concludes that officers properly followed internal protocol in their investigation of the November hit and run and that a civil action was appropriate because it happened on private property.
James Yuen, executive officer of the Honolulu Police Commission who conducted the investigation, declined to discuss the report for this story and referred all questions to Frank De Rego, the chair of the Maui Police Commission.
De Rego couldn’t be reached for comment last week.
The commission began searching for a new police chief in March.
Even if the Maui Police Commission is inclined to discipline Faaumu, it’s not clear what measures they could take since the former chief retired May 1.
The commission is expected to discuss the report with Yuen at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday. The commission is also scheduled to consider whether or not to find Faaumu in “good standing” in his retirement.
The truck Faaumu was driving is a county subsidized vehicle, but he will have to pay for any damages to the truck and to the motorcycle he hit because he pays for the insurance coverage. Police estimated the damage to the motorcycle to be less than $3,000.
A video posted to social media soon after the incident shows Faaumu, in a white pickup truck, backing out of a parking space and into a motorcycle. He looks back several times at it before driving away.
In a letter sent to the Honolulu Police Commission in February asking for help with the investigation, De Rego wrote that the commission did not want to use the Maui Police Department or Maui prosecutors to conduct the investigation to avoid the appearance of any conflicts of interest.
Specifically, De Rego asked the Honolulu commission to investigate “as to whether Chief Faaumu committed malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in the matter, whether the incident should have been charged as a violation, petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or felony, and whether there was any type of misconduct committed by Chief Faaumu related to this incident.”
Yuen, the Honolulu investigator, spent more than a month interviewing the officers who responded to the scene, bystanders, the security guard whose motorcycle Faaumu struck, as well as Faaumu and Deputy Chief Dean Rickard.
The Honolulu report is more than 150 pages long and includes transcripts of interviews. According to that report, here’s what happened:
On Nov. 7, two officers were getting ready to wrap up their day shift when they were asked to respond to a hit-and-run incident at the Queen Kaahumanu Shopping Center. Both the officers names are redacted in the report, although they tell the investigator that one was a new recruit.
The senior officer — the field training officer — decided to respond to the call even though it was near the end of their shift to give the recruit more experience dealing with motor vehicle collisions.
The recruit interviewed the owner of the bike, Rodel Jose, a security guard at the shopping center.
The mall’s security cameras had recorded the hit-and-run and Rodel had made a copy which he gave to the officers. They looked at the surveillance video and ran the license plate and figured out the truck was registered to Faaumu.
The officers told Yuen they wanted to initiate a criminal case under a Hawaii law that requires drivers who strike another vehicle to leave contact information. Failure to do so could mean a fine of up to $100.
But, the officers said, their supervisors told them to just write it up as a civil case.
Yuen asked why they didn’t pursue the other charge. The more senior officer said that the supervisors told them “make the civil case and bring it back to the station.”
“Basically, it was determined by both (supervisors) I believe,” the officer told Yuen.
The Maui Police Department didn’t respond to a Civil Beat inquiry regarding its procedures for investigating motor vehicle collisions.
Yuen tried to interview the supervisors involved but one never returned his calls. The other declined to answer questions but “wanted to state that there was no cover-up by him … or by his officers under his command in regards to Chief Faaumu’s MVA,” Yuen wrote in the report.
Later that day, after the officers had taken the initial report and determined it was their chief’s vehicle in the video, a Maui police official called Faaumu and told him he was involved in a vehicle collision.
Faaumu said he wasn’t aware that he had been in an accident. The police official told him to look at his rear bumper for damages.
In an interview with Yuen in March, Faaumu again said that he didn’t know he’d hit a motorcycle.
“I didn’t (feel) any bump or anything or like I hit anything so I left,” Faaumu said.
Faaumu told Yuen he is allowed to use the subsidized vehicle for personal use.
He had to register it under his own name, receives monthly car allowances for it, and pays for the insurance. The report says that a portion of his insurance is also covered by MPD.
In a separate interview with Yuen, Rickard, the Maui deputy chief, said that Faaumu would be responsible for paying for any damages.
MPD only has five subsidized vehicles: one each for the chief, deputy chief and three assistant chiefs.
Faaumu told Yuen that when officers are involved in any collision, they are supposed to tell their supervisors first.
“Any time police personnel (are) involved, whether you’re a commission officer or noncommission officer, any employee … then we notify a supervisor to come and just to supervise or conduct the investigations,” Faaumu said.
Yuen asked Faaumu if he’d notified the Maui Police Commission of the incident, since the commission is the police chief’s supervisor. Faaumu said he didn’t tell the commission but instead notified Rickard and other police supervisors.
Faaumu denied having any involvement in the investigation or trying to manipulate the process.
Yuen found that Maui officers and Faaumu correctly followed internal policies, and also concluded that the civil case was proper because “the MVA occurred on private property and damages were less than $3,000.”
In an email to Yuen dated May 1, Faaumu said that his insurance company closed the case because there were no claims made by the motorcycle owner. He also said his insurance company was having trouble getting the camera footage that caught Faaumu hitting the motorcycle.
“At this time they closed my case unless there is a claim, then they will reopen it,” Faaumu wrote. “It’s almost 6 months now.”
Read the Honolulu Police Commission’s report below.
Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.
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