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Police chief to retire amid federal investigation, attorney says Kealoha is 'disappointed'

After 33 years of service, Honolulu's chief of police will retire.

The announcement came Friday after the Honolulu Police Commission met for a second time this week.

Commission chair Max Sword made a short statement to the media following the meeting.

"We have come to an agreement in principle on his retirement and we're working the details out at this point," he said. "At this point, I'd like to thank the chief for his many years of service -- I believe it's over 30 years of service -- and we wish him well on his retirement."

Sword said the commission will give final approval on Kealoha's retirement when it meets again Jan. 18.

When asked about the chief, Kealoha's attorney, Myles Breiner, told KHON2: "Well certainly, the chief is disappointed that he's taking early retirement. On the other hand, he's doing this to benefit the community, the police commission, the public, and the department. It's important that we move forward. We have a federal grand jury investigation that's been ongoing for over a year. It's tarnished the image of HPD, a number of officers, and now the chief.

"The chief has done nothing wrong other than receiving a target letter, and just a target letter," he continued. "No one is saying the chief is doing anything other than perform as the chief of police. The fact he's taking retirement, I'm sure after 33 years in the department, it's unfortunate. He would have preferred leaving under different terms, but the fact is that he's leaving with full benefits and his retirement. We expect that down the road, the department will be issuing, along with police commission, a full statement to public."

What is this federal investigation about?

In the summer of 2013, the Kealohas claimed their mailbox disappeared from their Kahala home. They blamed Katherine Kealoha's uncle, Gerard Puana, of stealing it. The two were embroiled in a financial feud.

Learn more: Kealohas break down mailbox controversy, abuse of power allegations

The case went to federal trial and, in December 2014, came back as a mistrial when the chief took the stand and said things about Puana's past that he wasn't allowed to say.

Learn more: Federal judge declares mistrial after police chief's testimony

Through all of this, the chief's annual performance review by the police commission came back as "exceeds expectations" four years in a row.

In summer 2015, a federal investigation was launched against the couple with the grand jury looking into possible corruption and misconduct within HPD.

Learn more: HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and wife break silence on ethics, corruption allegations

In December 2016, retired HPD officer Niall Silva pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Silva is one of several officers accused of trying to frame Puana for the theft.

Learn more: Former Honolulu police officer pleads guilty to felony conspiracy

Court records claimed the cover-up continued even after the trial ended.

Kealoha joined the department in 1983 and was appointed chief in 2009.

Last month, he placed himself on restricted duty after learning he was a target in a federal investigation. A federal grand jury is investigating claims of corruption at HPD over an alleged mailbox theft involving the chief's wife, city deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.

In an exclusive interview with the Kealohas last April, the chief insisted his innocence.

"If I knew that I ever did something wrong, I would definitely admit to it," he said then. "I would take the consequences and I would resign, but in this situation, I know for a fact we never did anything wrong."

The commissioners spent over two hours in executive session Wednesday to discuss Kealoha's fate. No decision was made then -- Sword said more information was needed.

Breiner previously told KHON2 Kealoha was not allowed to attend Wednesday's meeting, but that commissioners asked Kealoha to attend Friday. However, we were told by the Honolulu Police Department that Kealoha was not physically present when commissioners met again.

So, we asked Breiner, was Kealoha able to speak to the commissioners?

"Yes he was," Breiner said. "My understanding is that he met in executive session with the police commission, with the exception of a few of the commissioners. He had a positive reception. It was agreed that he leave under these terms, retirement, with his benefits, full benefits. And that it was in the best interest of the community, the department, and his family."

"So he agreed this was the right decision to do? (Correct.) He was not forced to make this decision?" KHON2 asked.

"No. This was something he voluntarily did," Breiner said. "He is most concerned about the department and his family. His daughter will be going to college soon. He realizes the attention that this investigation has drawn. It's painted the department, himself, his wife in a negative light, and it's important to move forward, and that's what he's done."

Breiner says the chief will issue a joint statement with HPD by the next police commission meeting. As for what's next for Kealoha, Breiner said, "That question is best answered by the chief. My understanding is he likes to paddleboard Saturday morning. I'll probably see him on the break."

Kealoha's current term was supposed to run until November 2019.

As for who will take his place, the Honolulu Police Commission is now tasked with finding a new chief.

Section 6-1603. Chief of Police (page 53)

1. The chief of police shall be appointed by the police commission for a term of five years. The chief shall have had a minimum of five years of training and experience in law enforcement work, at least three years of which shall have been in a responsible administrative capacity. The chief shall not serve beyond the expiration of a term unless appointed again by the police commission. If desiring to do so, the police commission may appoint an incumbent chief to a new term without first engaging in an applicant solicitation and selection process.

2. Before the expiration of a term to which appointed, the chief may be removed by the police commission only for cause. As prerequisites to removal, the chief shall be given a written statement of the charge and an opportunity for a hearing before the police commission.

3. Gross or continuous maladministration shall be a cause sufficient for removal of the chief. Before removing the chief for such cause, the commission shall give the chief written notice of and a reasonable period to cure the gross or continuous maladministration. If the gross or continuous maladministration is not cured to the commission's satisfaction within the period given, the commission may proceed to remove the chief in accordance with subsection 2.

This subsection shall not be construed as:

(a) Making gross or continuous maladministration the only cause sufficient for removal of a chief; or

(b) Requiring the commission to give the notice and opportunity for cure specified under this subsection when removing a chief for a cause other than gross or continuous maladministration.

In the meantime, the Honolulu Police Department said in a statement: "Under the leadership of Acting Chief Cary Okimoto, HPD will work to ensure seamless continuity of the essential functions that make Honolulu one of the safest major cities in the country. The safety and security of our community has always been, and will continue to be, HPD's top priority."

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell released the following statement:

"I thank the Police Commission for taking decisive action on this matter. I believe the Commission made the right decision to accept Chief Kealoha's retirement, and he made the correct decision for the sake of the police department and the thousands of officers who serve with integrity, respect and fairness. I thank Chief Kealoha for his more than 30 years of dedicated public service.

"Today's announcement allows the Honolulu Police Department to move forward. I have full confidence in Acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto and the thousands of officers who put their own well-being on the line every single day to keep us one of the safest big cities in the United States. I thank them for their perseverance through this difficult chapter."

Four police officers also received target letters. While they were never publicly named, we learned some held supervisor positions.

HPD explained all four officers were reassigned to desk duties. There's no word on their fate at this time.

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