Patti Epler – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Mon, 20 May 2019 17:11:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Here’s Why We Think Trisha Watson’s Kealoha Column Was Worth Publishing https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/05/heres-why-we-think-trisha-watsons-kealoha-column-was-worth-publishing/ Fri, 17 May 2019 10:01:20 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1333771 When Trisha Kehaulani Watson first mentioned a while back that she was a friend of Katherine and Louis Kealoha, we immediately encouraged her to write a column on the subject. Recently, Trisha found out that she was on the witness list in the case. After a discussion, we all agreed that her experience with the […]

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When Trisha Kehaulani Watson first mentioned a while back that she was a friend of Katherine and Louis Kealoha, we immediately encouraged her to write a column on the subject.

Recently, Trisha found out that she was on the witness list in the case. After a discussion, we all agreed that her experience with the couple remained a valid topic.

As Trisha laid out in her column, she’s known Kat Kealoha for a dozen years and gotten to know her pretty well. That’s why she was surprised and saddened when her friend emerged at the center of what’s become the biggest public corruption investigation in Hawaii history.

Clearly, it’s a perspective on this case that no one has written about.

Louis Kealoha and former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha arrive at District Court on May 16, 2019.

Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha arrive at U.S. District Court on May 16.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The column is careful not to go into detail about what she might say if she is ever called to the witness stand. That seemed like the right approach even though it wouldn’t be that far afield from the exhaustive detail that’s already been made public — from the prosecutors’ meticulous theory of the case to interviews with numerous others who are involved as alleged victims and even witnesses.

In the past five years, we’ve published more than 200 stories about the Kealoha investigation and others that have spun off from it. Many of the people we’ve interviewed or written about are among the 150 people who are now on the witness list put together by prosecutors and defense.

Still, some readers have wondered why we published the column and question whether it was an appropriate topic for a news outlet like ours. Some found it self-serving on Trisha’s part and were concerned that it was intended to paint a favorable picture of the Kealohas on the eve of the trial. Still others felt it was wrong for a potential witness to publicly weigh in at all.

Others appreciated it and saw the value of trying to balance the mostly negative view of the couple that has come from reporting almost solely on developments in the investigation and the prosecution side of the case. The defense has had little to say about the allegations, choosing to save their arguments for trial.

But Trisha wasn’t writing about the guilt or innocence of the Kealohas — or weighing in on the facts of an incredibly complicated and wide-ranging case. Trisha, who as a columnist is expected to offer her personal viewpoints, and the Civil Beat editors talked through the need for her to avoid writing about the merits of the case.

The column instead offered a personal look at the anguish of trying to reconcile what you know about a dear friend with the horrific deeds that Katherine Kealoha is accused of committing. That’s a struggle that likely resonates with lots of folks in Hawaii who knew the Kealohas.

At Civil Beat, we pride ourselves on offering readers a wide range of perspectives. And we think it’s important to explain to all readers our thinking behind this piece, beginning with the fact that the idea of writing the column was ours, not Trisha’s.

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Meet Our New Criminal Justice Reporter https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/05/meet-our-new-criminal-justice-reporter/ Mon, 13 May 2019 10:01:22 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1333015 Our new criminal justice reporter is getting here at a good time. Yoohyun Jung has arrived just as the biggest corruption and conspiracy trial in Hawaii history is about to start. And the federal investigation into former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, his wife, Katherine — a former deputy prosecutor — and several Honolulu police […]

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Our new criminal justice reporter is getting here at a good time.

Yoohyun Jung has arrived just as the biggest corruption and conspiracy trial in Hawaii history is about to start.

And the federal investigation into former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, his wife, Katherine — a former deputy prosecutor — and several Honolulu police officers may be just the tip of the iceberg as the Justice Department continues to probe the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the city’s office of Corporation Counsel.

That alone would be enough to keep one reporter busy. But we’ve also asked Yoohyun to delve more deeply into all aspects of public safety and the legal system — kind of a broad mandate to take on the traditional news beats of cops, courts and corrections in a meaningful way.

Yoohyun Jung portrait 2019.

Yoohyun Jung is Civil Beat’s new criminal justice reporter.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

We don’t generally cover breaking crime news here at Civil Beat, the latest convenience store robbery, for instance, or another traffic fatality.

Instead, we’re more interested in the bigger picture of what is affecting the public’s safety and the public policy response to those systemic problems.

To that end, Yoohyun should get a look inside a couple of the major institutions responsible for public safety and how they have been operating as she joins reporter Nick Grube in team coverage of the Kealoha trial, which begins Monday with jury selection at the Blaisdell Center.

You can read more about Yoohyun’s background here on her author page. The short version is she was formerly the public safety reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, where she also developed an expertise in data reporting, a skill we hope to put to good use here. More recently, she was a radio writer for Korea Broadcasting System’s World Radio division in Seoul, South Korea.

She also spent a year as an investigative fellow at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, where she did a deep-dive investigation into a rapidly expanding international school network.

Yoohyun, who was born in Korea and grew up in that country and Canada, attended college at the University of Arizona, graduating in 2014. She is fluent in Korean and Japanese.

“I’m interested in covering injustice,” Yoohyun told me when I asked her to chat about what she hopes to accomplish in this position. “The beat says criminal justice, but more often we will find more injustice than justice being served and disparities in how justice is being served.”

She wants to help bring about meaningful change by using journalism to shine a light on what’s wrong — along with what’s right — in our policies and institutions that guard the public’s safety.

Her interest in data journalism also will bring a new level of storytelling to Civil Beat readers. Hawaii agencies have historically been reluctant to release public data and Yoohyun says she wants to work to uncover information and put it out there for the public to use.

“So much more needs to be known about police agencies and how they conduct their business,” she says. “Officers on the ground collect a lot of different data from people they encounter on the ground, like what time or where things are taking place.”

“I’m not just focused on what government agencies are doing right or wrong,” she adds, “but also things like what types of crime people are being affected by, and where.”

Still, she says, her biggest interest at least right now is in corruption and accountability.

You can hear Yoohyun talk more about her role in the Kealoha trial in this special podcast that’s part of our special report on the trial.

And if you have any thoughts, advice and especially tips for stories, please don’t hesitate to drop her a line at yjung@civilbeat.org.

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Meet Up With Civil Beat In Waimanalo Monday https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/meet-up-with-civil-beat-in-waimanalo-monday/ Mon, 13 May 2019 00:15:42 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1332984 Honolulu’s $32 million plan to clear out part of Waimanalo Bay Beach Park for new ball fields and parking has become a highly contentious proposal. The plan has been in the works for nearly a decade and seemed to be proceeding soothly and with the approval of residents, city officials and the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board. […]

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Honolulu’s $32 million plan to clear out part of Waimanalo Bay Beach Park for new ball fields and parking has become a highly contentious proposal.

The plan has been in the works for nearly a decade and seemed to be proceeding soothly and with the approval of residents, city officials and the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board.

But then the bulldozers showed up and community outrage seemed to explode.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has decided to proceed with at least an initial construction phase in order to minimize disruption of endangered bats and other species that use the 75-acre park, located on land near Bellows Air Force Station that is known as Sherwood Forest.

The neighborhood has scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at the National Guard Training Auditorium, 711 Tinker Road.

Civil Beat plans to be in the neighborhood starting around 5 p.m. and would like to hear your views on this issue. Reporter Kirstin Downey and digital producer Ku’u Kauanoe will be in The Wavemaker, our mobile reporting studio, so please don’t hesitate to flag them down and share your thoughts on this project and any other issues you feel are important to the community.

They’ll be at the neighborhood board meeting too.

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Dog And Beth Chapman In On The Hunt For Columbine Suspect https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/dog-and-beth-chapman-in-on-the-hunt-for-columbine-suspect/ Thu, 18 Apr 2019 17:53:05 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1328792 Celebrity news site The Blast has an interesting interview with Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman  about his involvement in helping look for Sol Pais, the 18-year-old Florida woman police said was obsessed with the Columbine High School mass shootings. It’s the 20-year anniversary and authorities believed Pais was in Colorado to create her own […]

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Celebrity news site The Blast has an interesting interview with Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman  about his involvement in helping look for Sol Pais, the 18-year-old Florida woman police said was obsessed with the Columbine High School mass shootings.

It’s the 20-year anniversary and authorities believed Pais was in Colorado to create her own incident. Numerous schools were put on lockdown, including, as the paper reported, the one attended by the Chapmans’ son, Garry.

Just as interesting, is a radio interview Chapman gave to The Fox radio station in Denver. Among other things, he discusses the very street-savvy things he looks for in tracking down suspects and others he’s been hired to find.

Do they smoke? Where do they buy cigarettes? Are they Walmart shoppers?

Chapman says he has retrieved 8,000 people over the 40 years he’s been doing it. He and his wife were actually also on their way to film an episode of their show in Colorado.

Pais was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in a hotel room outside Denver, according to news media accounts

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Honolulu Police Corruption: This Is Why We Rarely Rely On Anonymous Sources https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/honolulu-police-corruption-this-is-why-we-rarely-rely-on-anonymous-sources/ Sat, 13 Apr 2019 03:56:57 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327974 Relying on unnamed sources can come back to bite you when it turns out your sources were simply wrong. And the ripple effects of factual errors based on anonymous sources can have real-world consequences for the subject of the mistake, as deputy prosecuting attorney Janice Futa found out this week. Futa, who had been widely reported […]

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Relying on unnamed sources can come back to bite you when it turns out your sources were simply wrong.

And the ripple effects of factual errors based on anonymous sources can have real-world consequences for the subject of the mistake, as deputy prosecuting attorney Janice Futa found out this week.

Futa, who had been widely reported to be implicated in the unfolding federal corruption case surrounding the Honolulu Police Department and prosecutor’s office, is now having to explain to a judge that there’s no reason to disqualify her from a totally unrelated criminal case in which she is the prosecutor.

Since December, Hawaii News Now has been reporting that Futa along with deputy prosecutor Chasid Sapolu have received so-called subject letters from the U.S. Justice Department — essentially notifying them that they were somehow implicated in the federal investigation.

The television news outlet had itself a major scoop — the probe, which for years had been largely focused on former police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, had now reached deeper into the Honolulu prosecutor’s office. Hawaii News Now soon followed that up with an even bigger story, that the elected prosecutor himself — Keith Kaneshiro — had been sent a target letter by federal investigators.

All this according to anonymous sources, of course.

The stories, which played out for months, often were accompanied by a large on-air graphic with photos of Kaneshiro, Sapolu and Futa, among other suspects in the probe.

Sapolu fairly quickly acknowledged that he had indeed received a subject letter and announced he was stepping aside until the case was resolved.

But Kaneshiro and Futa remained silent, despite growing calls for the elected prosecutor to level with the public about what the heck was going on in his office. Then in February, after the state attorney general started legal proceedings to have him removed from office, Kaneshiro’s attorney finally conceded his client had indeed gotten a target letter.

In that same Feb. 12 press conference, attorney Bill McCorriston also revealed that Futa had never gotten any sort of letter. He chastised reporters in the room for continuing to report that error.

The consequences of that mistake are coming home to roost. This week, defense attorneys in an unrelated case moved to have Futa disqualified as the prosecutor in their case because she was the subject of a federal investigation. As evidence, the attorneys submitted copies of Hawaii News Now and Honolulu-Star Advertiser stories naming Futa.

“The (deputy prosecuting attorney) received neither a ‘subject letter’ nor a ‘target letter’ relating to any federal investigation,” Futa wrote in a court filing opposing her removal from the case.

Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa in Judge Castagnetti's courtroom for Christian Gutierrez sentencing.

Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Apparently, the entire underlying basis of this motion are ‘media accounts’ and ‘other news’ which have reported that the DPA received a ‘subject letter’ from federal investigators. Had defendants, through their attorneys, done even a cursory investigation into this matter, they would have learned the truth and would know that the allegations against the DPA contained in the motion are spurious, injurious, and totally without merit,” Futa’s memorandum in opposition says.

A hearing had been scheduled for Monday. But it appears the attorneys have since withdrawn their motion.

But here’s the thing. Jan Futa could have and should have spoken up back in December and told Hawaii News Now and the Star-Advertiser they were wrong.

Civil Beat never reported that Futa had been given a letter by the feds. We have our own unnamed sources who told us this was simply not true so we steered clear of that assertion.

We did, however, try on numerous occasions to get Futa to respond to our inquiries about the letter. She never replied to us.

After McCorriston declared in February that she had not received the letter we tried again several times. Nothing.

She also declined to speak with me for this story, via the office spokesman, Brooks Baehr.

He also sent this statement:

“We are disappointed a deputy prosecutor has had her reputation tarnished by flawed reporting. We hope jury pools are not polluted and cases jeopardized because of the many erroneous reports about Deputy Prosecutor Jan Futa by Hawaii News Now, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and others. Inaccurate news, malicious or otherwise, undermines the public’s confidence in the media and causes real damage to those wrongly implicated.”

Mistakes happen in our business, and it would seem now that Hawaii News Now made a mistake that was exacerbated by being repeated in the Star-Advertiser. Despite McCorriston’s assertion that Futa did not receive a letter, neither news outlet has published a correction.

Civil Beat also picked up the Hawaii News Now story on Kaneshiro, but not of Futa.

Hawaii News Now has replaced Futa’s mug shot in its on-air graphic with a picture of Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, who also received a target letter from federal investigators.

Star-Advertiser Managing Editor Marsha McFadden didn’t return a voice message explaining what I wanted to chat with her about for this story.

But Hawaii News Now news director Scott Humber did.

First of all, he says, HNN reporters had multiple sources telling them Futa, along with Sapolu and Kaneshiro, had received letters.

And until Futa or some other official source tells them otherwise, they are sticking with their sources who have a reliable track record of being right.

“We have asked them to set the record straight and they have never answered,” he says. “They’ve had every opportunity to contact me or Lynn (Kawano) or Daryl (Huff) and we have asked multiple times.”

Thus, he argues, until they hear it from Futa or the prosecutor’s office, it wouldn’t make sense to publish a correction. “We’re standing by what we’ve reported all along.”

I have to say I do understand his position on this. There is absolutely no reason for Futa to have stayed silent. She should have corrected the misinformation right away.

To this day, Kaneshiro also has never spoken to the public — the people who put him in the office — about his situation.

But journalists are often too quick to try to be first with a story based on anonymous sources. That has become a staple of Hawaii News Now’s reporting in the Kealoha case where investigative reporter Lynn Kawano is often the first to report developments, often based on unnamed sources.

Civil Beat rarely relies on unnamed sources and when we do, we give as much detail as we can about who is providing the information — lawmakers, police, parents, agency officials, for instance — to give readers some context. And we always explain why we agreed to let someone speak anonymously.

Public trust in the media is not good these days. We need to stick to the highest journalistic standards and ethics if we’re going to regain that trust. The everyday use of anonymous sources is not the way to do that. Even if it means losing out on a big scoop.

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Former Honolulu Resident Named To Head Homeland Security https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/former-honolulu-resident-named-to-head-homeland-security/ Tue, 09 Apr 2019 23:12:35 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1327092 Kevin McAleenan has been named to head — at least temporarily — the federal Department of Homeland Security following the abrupt resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday. McAleenan, as we’ve reported a couple of times, was born and partly raised in Honolulu. And while he may bring the Aloha Spirit to the beleaguered agency and it’s […]

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Kevin McAleenan has been named to head — at least temporarily — the federal Department of Homeland Security following the abrupt resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday.

McAleenan, as we’ve reported a couple of times, was born and partly raised in Honolulu.

And while he may bring the Aloha Spirit to the beleaguered agency and it’s struggle to deal with a flood of immigrants at the southern border not to mention President Trump’s push to build a $6 billion wall at the border, most political observers don’t think he’ll be in position long enough to have much of an impact.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan meets with CBP employees and surveys the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by Mani Albrecht

In October 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan met with CBP employees and surveys the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

McAleenan, a lawyer, was first brought to Customs and Border Protection by President Barack Obama. He has made his views on human dignity and humanitarianism in dealing with undocumented immigrants well known, as The Washington Post reported this morning.

He was named commissioner of CBP in 2017 by Trump. He was supported by Gov. David Ige and then-Attorney General Doug Chin, who was in the midst of a beef with the Tump administration over the so-called Muslim travel ban. Read our coverage of his nomination here.

He also had strong support from Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono when he was confirmed to the top CBP post by the Senate in 2018. Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, however, was skeptical and voted against him.

Did we mention McAleenan’s middle name is Kealoha?

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Kealoha Personnel File? We Got It 2 Years Ago https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/kealoha-personnel-file-we-got-it-2-years-ago/ Tue, 09 Apr 2019 23:12:35 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1327198 While the public’s attention has been largely focused on the looming public corruption trial of Katherine and Louis Kealoha plus a couple of former Honolulu cops, a side skirmish has been playing out involving former HPD Sgt. Albert Lee. In a case that’s been turned over to Kauai County for prosecution, Lee is accused of smashing […]

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While the public’s attention has been largely focused on the looming public corruption trial of Katherine and Louis Kealoha plus a couple of former Honolulu cops, a side skirmish has been playing out involving former HPD Sgt. Albert Lee.

In a case that’s been turned over to Kauai County for prosecution, Lee is accused of smashing his car into an electric vault in Hawaii Kai while drunk. Police found him asleep in the passenger seat and he says he doesn’t know who was driving.

Nick Grube has reported on this case and its connection to what could be a questionable relationship between Katherine Kealoha and a Honolulu businessman who is a convicted felon, Michael Miske.

Former deputy city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha closeup.

Katherine Kealoha doesn’t want her personnel file made public.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a nutshell, Lee says he is being wrongly prosecuted in a coverup of Kealoha’s effort to save Miske from more legal trouble created when Lee had him arrested for dodging an officer who tried to give him a ticket.

Lee’s attorney, Megan Kau, had to go court to get Kealoha’s personnel file from the Honolulu prosecutor’s office even though personnel files are subject to release under Hawaii’s public records law.

We know all about that. Civil Beat requested Kealoha’s file in 2017. The city was set to turn it over when Kealoha filed suit to keep it secret arguing privacy concerns and irreparable harm should certain things in the file get out. But a judge soon ruled that it must be released.

It looks like Judge Edward Kubo also was scratching his head over the city prosecutor’s recent attempts to keep the personnel file under wraps. Check out Hawaii News Now’s coverage of the fight in Circuit Court and the judge’s ruling that it must be handed over.

UPDATE: The prosecutor’s office has since released the file to the judge.

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Political Mailers: Shamelessly Exploiting The News Media https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/03/political-mailers-shamelessly-exploiting-the-news-media/ Fri, 22 Mar 2019 10:01:10 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1324837 Anyone looking at this political mailer from Trevor Ozawa’s City Council campaign might conclude that Civil Beat thinks his opponent, Tommy Waters, is corrupt and just another lapdog for Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Not so. In fact, the only thing in this ad that comes from Civil Beat is our logo and red “Support Us” button. […]

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Anyone looking at this political mailer from Trevor Ozawa’s City Council campaign might conclude that Civil Beat thinks his opponent, Tommy Waters, is corrupt and just another lapdog for Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Not so.

In fact, the only thing in this ad that comes from Civil Beat is our logo and red “Support Us” button. Even the photo is from somewhere else.

Quotes from news stories, editorials and letters to the editor are common fodder for political campaigns and these kinds of campaign flyers. We don’t have any say over a candidate lifting a comment from a story, just as a candidate wouldn’t have to approve us using a quote we pulled from a speech or a TV spot or any other source.

But usually the material is at least from the news organization that is prominently featured. In this case, even the line about Tommy Waters keeping quiet about using property taxes from rail — allegedly from a story we published on Oct. 27 — was nowhere in any Civil Beat story. Ever. In fact, Oct. 27 was a Saturday and we published no stories that day.

So I called Ozawa to ask how this flyer, which hit East Oahu mailboxes Wednesday, came to be. We chatted several times and he actually had a couple of interesting things to say. But because he hadn’t had a chance to really look into the problem I agreed not to quote him from those conversations. And besides, he promised to call me back.

What I got instead was an email that didn’t answer how or why this mailer was designed to look as if Civil Beat was the source of the anti-Waters quotes.

“We apologize to Civil Beat for any confusion, the quote attribution and layout in this mailer were done incorrectly,” was what he said in the email.

In keeping with the tradition of republishing flattering newspaper commentary, the flip side of the same flyer includes a lengthy passage from an Oct. 19 editorial in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

That turns out to be a factual reproduction of that editorial — except for the part replaced by ellipses which actually said:

“As a critic of Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Ozawa can be too aggressive and contrarian at times, requiring him to pull back from ill-advised positions. But he works hard for his constituents and deserves another term.”

Tommy Waters, who is running against Ozawa for the District 4 council seat thrown into limbo when the Hawaii Supreme Court found election irregularities serious enough to require a new election, has also been sending out campaign mailers full of favorable coverage, including this column by Star-Advertiser writer David Shapiro:

But Waters includes a way for people to check out the full article if they are so inclined.

Jim McCoy, a longtime Hawaii newspaper and TV reporter before jumping to the public relations business, is Waters’ campaign spokesman now. He was surprised when he saw Ozawa’s flyer with Civil Beat’s purported criticism of his client. He called me to say he’d tried to find the referenced material on our site but couldn’t.

“It is crossing a line, I think,” McCoy said of the Ozawa flyer. “It’s built to imply that this is what a respected news outlet is saying. It’s shady, quite frankly.”

That’s what the opposition would say, of course.

But Neal Milner, a Civil Beat columnist and longtime Hawaii political commentator, is just as critical.

“It’s misleading, it’s outrageous and it’s pretty amateurish,” he says. “You look at this and it looks like Civil Beat said it.”

“This is beyond quoting out of context. It’s trying to make a link to the media that the media didn’t say.”

To be a bit more charitable, Milner speculated that this kind of sloppy campaign tactic happens when a candidate is caught off guard and hasn’t had as much time or money to wage a well-executed campaign. Ozawa had initially won the District 4 seat in the November election, only to be thrown a curve when the Supreme Court called for a do-over.

Ballots are expected to begin arriving in mailboxes soon and need to be returned by April 13, with some limited walk-in voting that day.

Generally, Milner said, quotes from newspaper stories or endorsements don’t make much of a difference in a campaign.

“But in a campaign like this where there’s no data and no real money, you just use it,” he said. “Because there’s no down side to using it.”

Civil Beat doesn’t endorse political candidates, but does allow candidates and their supporters to publish their own opinions in our “Campaign Corner” section. So more fodder for mailers and other campaign material.

We are sticklers about not letting politicians or special interest groups use our photos, which are copyrighted, and we do insist they cease and desist when we find out.

In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump used one of our photos in a campaign video that got widespread play on Facebook. When his campaign refused to pull it down, we complained to Facebook, which removed the video itself.

Earlier this year, House Finance chair Sylvia Luke took a photo of Gov. David Ige’s administrative director, Ford Fuchigami, off our website and had it reprinted on T-shirts that she handed out to her committee members. At the time, just before session started, Ige and legislative leaders were still coming down off a rough campaign ride in which Luke and other legislators publicly backed Ige’s opponent, Colleen Hanabusa, for governor.

Our photographer, Cory Lum, was certainly surprised when he showed up at the committee hearing to see his own photo of Fuchigami displayed on the House Finance Committee members. And Luke was most apologetic when I called her on it. She’d simply thought it would be a good way to lighten the tension with the governor’s office.

Representatives gather for a group photo with Ford Fuchigami shirts.

House members gather for a group photo with Ford Fuchigami T-shirts.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Who knows, it may have helped get business done a little more smoothly this legislative session, and who can complain about that?

The point is neither Luke nor Trump were trying to leverage the credibility of an independent news organization for their own political gain, as Ozawa apparently is doing.

As Milner puts it: “There’s clueless, there’s out and out incompetence and there’s purposely misleading. In (Ozawa’s) case it’s obvious its purposely misleading.”

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Judge Orders Release Of More Records In Case Of HPD Officer Who Beat Girlfriend https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/03/judge-orders-release-of-more-records-in-case-of-hpd-officer-who-beat-girlfriend/ Mon, 18 Mar 2019 10:01:52 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1324114 A 143-page disciplinary report that summarizes the Honolulu Police Department’s investigation of an officer who was caught on video repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant must be released under Hawaii’s public records law, a Circuit Court judge ruled Friday. Judge Jeffrey Crabtree had earlier ordered release of the arbitrator’s decision that reinstated Sgt. […]

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A 143-page disciplinary report that summarizes the Honolulu Police Department’s investigation of an officer who was caught on video repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant must be released under Hawaii’s public records law, a Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.

Judge Jeffrey Crabtree had earlier ordered release of the arbitrator’s decision that reinstated Sgt. Darren Cachola even though he had been fired by HPD in connection with the 2014 incident.

The city and HPD had been prepared to release the decision so the public could see why an arbitrator gave Cachola his job back along with several years of back pay. But the police union — the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers — sued to keep it secret.

Civil Beat filed a public records request for the decision and investigative records and was allowed to intervene in the case.

In his Friday ruling, the judge declined to release most of the 767-page investigative report compiled by HPD. He said city officials had not finished redacting names and other information that raised privacy concerns as they had done in the arbitrator’s decision and the other report, called a closing report.

Crabtree noted the full file didn’t shed much more light on the public’s knowledge of what had transpired at the restaurant than is in the arbitrator’s decision and the closing report.

He did, however, order the city to release about 78 pages of the investigative report that show HPD’s policies and procedures that are applicable to the Cachola case. “The court sees no privacy interest in these documents, and disclosure is in the public interest because they will help the public evaluate HPD’s standards and investigative process for the incident in question,” according to the order.

Earlier, Crabtree had come down strongly in favor of the public’s right to know what had happened in this case, why Cachola was fired and why the arbitrator had disagreed with his termination. Crabtree said there is a “significant public interest” in police misconduct that outweighs any privacy interest the officer may have, something that SHOPO has been arguing.

SHOPO attorneys have said they will appeal Crabtree’s rulings in the case to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

That means the public may not see any of the records any time soon, says Brian Black, executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, which represented Civil Beat in the lawsuit.

He said it will be up to the court to decide if it will keep the records under wraps during the appeal process.

Earlier, when SHOPO first filed the lawsuit and Civil Beat intervened, Crabtree acknowledged that the release of the information in a timely fashion was important.

Black noted that waiting years for the appeals process to play out undermines the public’s interest. “Cases such as this — where the public interest is so clear and undisputed — must have timely disclosure,” he said. “The process for public access to police disciplinary suspension records is broken.”

Crabtree’s ruling is based in part on a 2016 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling ordering disclosure of misconduct files for 12 HPD officers. The high court also found that the public interest in police misconduct and how police departments handle it outweighed individual officer privacy interests.

The court sent that case back to Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang to review each file in essentially the same way HPD did in the Cachola case. Chang still hasn’t released any of the 12 files and has asked for patience.

Contact Key Lawmakers

Meanwhile, the Senate public safety committee on Tuesday is hearing House Bill 285 which would make police disciplinary files subject to disclosure once the discipline has become final. That’s the same standard that applies to all public employees except county police officers.

Now, the public can only see records on officers who have been terminated and not until arbitration is final. HB 285 would eliminate that exemption for police and records of suspension or other disciplinary action, including arbitration reports, would be publicly available in a much more timely fashion, Black says.

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

The post Judge Orders Release Of More Records In Case Of HPD Officer Who Beat Girlfriend appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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Judge: HPD Must Release Arbitration Report On Officer Who Beat Girlfriend https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/02/judge-hpd-must-release-arbitration-report-on-officer-who-beat-girlfriend/ Wed, 20 Feb 2019 04:13:38 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1320836 An arbitrator’s decision that allowed a Honolulu police sergeant to keep his job even after he was fired for repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant must be released publicly, a court ruling issued Tuesday says. Sgt. Darren Cachola was fired by the Honolulu Police Department in September 2014 after he was caught on […]

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An arbitrator’s decision that allowed a Honolulu police sergeant to keep his job even after he was fired for repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant must be released publicly, a court ruling issued Tuesday says.

Sgt. Darren Cachola was fired by the Honolulu Police Department in September 2014 after he was caught on surveillance tape beating his girlfriend at the Kuni Restaurant where she worked.

But Cachola was reinstated with back pay by an arbitrator four years after the incident. The department and the city were set to release the decision, but the state police union — the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers — sued to keep it secret.

Civil Beat, which had filed a public records request for the report, intervened in the case and on Tuesday, First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree agreed with the city, HPD and Civil Beat that the report was a matter of “significant public interest.”

When Civil Beat — and the public — will actually get the report remains to be seen — SHOPO is likely to appeal the decision, which could keep it under wraps for months longer, if not years.

Although misconduct records including arbitration reports for other public employees in Hawaii are publicly available once discipline becomes final, police officers are exempted from that element of the public records law unless they have been terminated. In June 2016, the Hawaii Supreme Court, ruling in a different case brought by Civil Beat seeking police disciplinary records, ruled that police officer misconduct files must be made publicly available if the public’s interest in knowing about the misconduct outweighs the privacy interest of the officer.

Crabtree cited that Supreme Court ruling, as well as another state law requiring the release of adjudicative orders such as arbitration decisions, in finding that the Cachola report must be made public.

“The more serious the misconduct, the more likely the public interest outweighs the individual privacy interest,” Crabtree said. “Here, the alleged misconduct was extremely serious: the use of unauthorized, unjustified, and potentially criminal physical force against another person, completely unrelated to any official law enforcement duties.”

Crabtree noted that proper performance of a law enforcement officer’s duties, whether on the job or in a private situation such as in this case, are of legitimate public concern.

Moreover, he said, “there is a significant public interest in knowing how HPD supervises alleged misconduct, responds to misconduct allegations, and investigates alleged misconduct.”

“The court finds that as a matter of law, the public interest in disclosure far outweighs the privacy interest.” — First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree

In the Cachola case, officers who responded to the scene and questioned Cachola and his girlfriend about the attack also were under scrutiny for the way they handled the call.

The incident sparked outrage among domestic violence advocates. Women lawmakers demanded an audience with then-police chief Louis Kealoha to insist that the case be thoroughly investigated and to express concern over HPD’s general handling of domestic violence cases involving its own officers, as well as civilians.

Crabtree said he reviewed more than 900 pages of records and filings in this lawsuit, including the 30-page arbitration report, a closing report and the full investigative record. He concluded that “little of the conduct described in these records was of a truly personal, private, or intimate nature.”

Much of the incident played out in front of witnesses in the restaurant, he said.

“The court finds that as a matter of law, the public interest in disclosure far outweighs the privacy interest,” he said.

Crabtree also said he intends to rule on the release of the other documents — the closing report and the full investigative report — within the next week or so.

Attorneys representing SHOPO couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

But Brian Black, executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest who argued the case for Civil Beat, said he expects SHOPO will appeal, delaying the public’s ability to understand why an arbitrator decided Cachola should be reinstated.

“Given how clearly most people would look at this and see how it needs to be disclosed, it’s unfortunate that these types of cases are taking years” to produce the information for public inspection, he said.

In the separate case — where the state’s highest court ruled in 2016 that 12 misconduct files requested by Civil Beat be made public — the records have still not been released. Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang has been reviewing the 12 files for more than two years to figure out if the public’s interest in the cases outweighs the privacy of the 12 officers. The cases all involved egregious misconduct, and Civil Beat initially filed the public records request for the 12 files in October 2013.

Black said he has been told Chang is looking at records and has asked that attorneys in the case be patient.

Contact Key Lawmakers

Since Civil Beat published an investigative series on police misconduct in 2013 — “In The Name Of The Law: What The Public Isn’t Being Told About Police Misconduct” — efforts have been made every year in the Legislature to remove the public records exemption for police officers. Every year it has died, generally under pressure from SHOPO.

This year, House Bill 285 seeks to lift the exemption and bring police under the same rules as all other public employees. It passed the House Labor Committee and is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, which it must receive by March 1 to remain alive this session.

Black said HB 285 would make it much easier to access police disciplinary files, including arbitration reports.

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

The post Judge: HPD Must Release Arbitration Report On Officer Who Beat Girlfriend appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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