The Maui Police Commission on Wednesday unanimously decided against disciplining Maui Police Chief John Pelletier after spending weeks reviewing complaints from MPD employees.

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Since Pelletier, a former police captain in Las Vegas, took the helm of the Maui Police Department last December, he’s been welcomed by some officers and community members as someone who might finally shake up a department that had been plagued by controversy and allegations of corruption. But others, including leaders of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, have criticized his leadership style and accused Pelletier of creating a hostile workplace for some officers.

The commission was tasked with reviewing three complaints made by MPD employees against Pelletier, which alleged “violations in policy and procedure.” Civil Beat requested copies of the complaints through a public records request earlier this summer, but the county refused to release the documents at the time, saying they were still part of an ongoing investigation.

The Maui Police Commission met Wednesday to review complaints against the new police chief. Screenshot/2022

During Wednesday’s meeting, Police Commission Chair Frank De Rego Jr. said that third-party investigators were hired to vet the complaints. Two of the complaints were made by sworn officers; the third was made by a civilian employee of the department.

“Investigations concluded that two of the complaints were not substantiated by the evidence,” De Rego said. “The third complaint was not substantiated to all grounds, with the exception of an incident involving raised voices and unprofessional language.”

After reviewing interviews and evidence, De Rego said the commission decided not to move forward with any sort of disciplinary action against the chief. He also said that Pelletier hired a coach to “address management style,” which is something the commission will examine further when it evaluates the chief’s work during his next annual review.

MPD Chief Swearing in
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier started the job in December. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

“The Maui Police Commission is concerned with the police department and all its members and wants to express its strong intention to do its part to foster the healing and growth of the department and its leadership,” De Rego said.

While it weighed the complaints at meetings in recent weeks, the police commission heard from a number of community members, some of whom defended the new chief while others called for his firing. Before Wednesday’s meeting, the commission received a number of anonymous letters, many of which accused Pelletier of operating like a “dictator.”

“Never in my 20 plus years have I seen such divisiveness, favoritism, high number of complaints against a chief and officers retiring due to this chief,” wrote one testifier, who signed off as “MPD officer.” 

But during the meeting, other Maui residents and former colleagues in Las Vegas took the stand to publicly praise Pelletier’s performance leading the department that for years grappled with morale issues and understaffing under the direction of his embattled predecessor, Tivoli Faaumu. Police department data show that the current crisis has escalated over the last five years, mirroring a national trend among police departments where resignations have soared and departments have struggled to attract new officers.

Mike Crowe, a Maui police officer who works in patrol in the Kihei district, credited Pelletier with making a number of changes that drastically improved officers’ lives, including updating uniforms and creating work schedules that allow officers to spend more time with their families. 

“I can’t speak for the rest of the department, but I can tell you here in Kihei, we directly benefited from the decisions and changes that Chief Pelletier has made,” Crowe said.

But Wednesday’s meeting likely won’t be the end of the discussions over Pelletier’s leadership at MPD. In a statement, Nick Krau, who chairs SHOPO’s Maui chapter, said there are still multiple complaints under investigation. The exact number wasn’t available Wednesday.

“We expect those complaints to be taken seriously, investigated fully and decided fairly based upon the available evidence,” Krau said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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