Most of the more than two dozen people who testified on the selection of the next Maui police chief want the county police commission to consider a new batch of candidates or select a Las Vegas police captain who has few ties to the department.
“I’d normally advocate for hiring local,” Maui County council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez told the Maui Police Commission Thursday. “To achieve the level of necessary improvements, a candidate would need to admit there are problems in the department … I can’t see a candidate that’s currently employed in MPD being able to do that right now.”
The five finalists to be Maui’s next police chief are Everett Ferreira, Victor Ramos, John Pelletier, Lawrence Hudson and John Jakubczak. All but Pelletier, the Las Vegas officer, are current or former Maui Police Department employees.
Pelletier garnered the most support from testifiers on Thursday, with a handful of current and former MPD employees backing Ramos and two supporting Ferreira.
A significant number of people said the commission should consider candidates other than those five.
That’s because some of the candidates, including Ramos, have been accused of retaliating against employees, several testifiers told commissioners.
“I describe him as a chameleon,” former MPD Lt. Jamie Becraft said. “You’ll find all sorts of retaliation. He has all sorts of, and not to just one officer, to multiple” officers.
MPD Detective Christopher Schmitt says that he is one of the employees Ramos has retaliated against for raising concerns over the handling of an investigation into former Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu’s alleged hit-and-run incident last November.
“We cannot afford a police chief that is part of the problem,” Schmitt told commissioners. “We cannot afford a chief that actively retaliates and has done that to a number of people over a number of years.”
But Ramos’ supporters have a different view of him. Shane Yoshizawa, an MPD sergeant, describes him as a “man of honor, integrity and faith.”
Dara Rampersad, a psychologist who works with police crisis intervention teams, said he has seen other jurisdictions outside Hawaii that bring in outside police chiefs who struggle “to gain acculturation in a short period of time while trying to figure out police operations.”
He said that Ramos’ position would mean he’d spend less time adapting to local culture.
But for many of the public testifiers, being entrenched in department culture is the issue. They urged the commission to choose someone who did not make the shortlist of candidates, a move commissioners later acknowledged could be possible when the panel votes on the next chief Tuesday.
“It’s going to be necessary to step outside of internal candidates in order to be objective and to really have the strength to stand up to some really deep ingrained culture, systems that have already been established that are not assisting Maui at this time,” Lisa Darcy, who advocates for homeless individuals on Maui, said.
Interviews Will Take Place In Public
The public will have a chance to hear from all the candidates on Friday.
The police commission had planned to start interviewing all candidates in a private meeting with commissioners starting on Tuesday after the candidates took a written exam on Monday. But De Rego along with Maui County attorneys decided against that idea last week after questions about the process were raised by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.
The law center, in a letter, asked the commission to hold discussions in open session and laid out legal ramifications that could come from closing the meetings to the public.
“Essentially, it’s a notice to sue,” De Rego told the commissioners Thursday.
De Rego said that the Sunshine Law permits boards to close their meetings, but moving into executive session, even while discussing personnel matters, is not mandatory. If the commission were to close the meetings anyway, the selection of the next police chief could be invalidated by legal challenges.
He said the instances in which a commission can shut the public out of its meetings are narrow, and that the interview questions should not raise any privacy issues for the candidates.
Several commissioners expressed their frustration with the last-minute changes.
“I’m highly offended we are going in this direction,” commissioner Mike Redeker said, adding that the decision to change the interview process should have been made by the entire commission not just the chair.
But notice requirements in Hawaii’s open meetings law placed a severe time constraint on the commission.
“I really had less than 24 hours to make this decision,” De Rego said. “I could have left the agenda the way it was, originally posted, but we would not be able to do the meeting as presented on the agenda. If we held the interviews in executive session, we would be violating the Sunshine Law, and probably would be sued.”
The commissioners will interview all five candidates as a group on Friday. De Rego said each candidate will be asked the same 15 questions and have 5 minutes to respond to each question.
Some commissioners said they would rather have the candidates interviewed separately so that they couldn’t hear each other’s answers, but De Rego said it’s too late to make more changes.
Commissioner Janet Kuwahara said she welcomed the change in process.
“It’s going to make them more on top of it,” she said. “This might work to our advantage. See how they can deal with things off the cuff, in a room full of competitors.”
The commission also decided that the candidates would not be allowed to look at their cellphones during the interview and also wouldn’t be allowed to take notes to help shape their questions.
The commission’s scoring sheets will also be made public after the interviews conclude.
Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.
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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