Commission holds closed session over Honolulu police chief probe

HONOLULU — The Honolulu Police Commission met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the status of Chief Louis Kealoha, who surrendered his gun and badge and went on paid leave after being notified he’s the target of a federal investigation.

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HONOLULU — The Honolulu Police Commission met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the status of Chief Louis Kealoha, who surrendered his gun and badge and went on paid leave after being notified he’s the target of a federal investigation.

The commissioners adjourned their public meeting to go into executive session to discuss Kealoha and other matters after state Sen. Will Espero called on them to be more transparent.

It was the first time the commissioners met to discuss Kealoha since he went on paid leave last month after receiving an FBI target letter. A federal grand jury is looking into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption. The investigation began a year ago after allegations emerged that Kealoha and his wife, a prosecutor, framed her uncle for stealing their home mailbox to discredit him in a family financial dispute.

Commission Chairman Max Sword said he would address the media after the closed session.

Espero, who has pushed for more police oversight, said he understands there’s a need to discuss some personnel matters behind closed doors but said it would be in the public interest to be more open. He said the commissioners could discuss publicly what their options are and could be more welcoming to the public. He suggested meetings be held in a bigger location instead of a crowded room in police headquarters. “It’s not open and friendly” for attendees, he said.

Commissioner Loretta Sheehan said the commission’s options include suspending Kealoha with or without pay and removing him. Kevin Sumida, an attorney who has represented Kealoha and his wife Katherine Kealoha, attended the public meeting but wouldn’t acknowledge reporters seeking comment.

The commission’s newest member, retired state Supreme Court Justice Steve Levinson, said before the meeting that he expected the executive session to be an opportunity to consult with attorneys for the city and county of Honolulu. “But what is not going to happen, because the law is very clear on the point, nothing substantive is going to happen with respect to the status of the police chief,” he said.

If the commission chooses to take any action, “he’s got to get notice, there has to be a hearing — all of that has to be in public,” he said. “The horses are still at the starting gate at this point.”

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During the public portion of the meeting, Sheehan noted that four other officers also received target letters and asked whether of them are in supervisory positions because she’s concerned about witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. Acting Chief Cary Okimoto said they’re been reassigned and their police powers are restricted.

Sheehan then asked about morale in the department. “I feel morale is getting better,” Okimoto said, noting that it’s difficult for members of the force to see what’s happening to Kealoha. Everyone is “walking on pins and needles” wondering what’s going on, he said.

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