Missing drugs, assault of a juvenile suspect, and false violations on traffic tickets. That’s among the low-lights of the past year at the Big Island Police Department.
Police departments in all four counties have to give state lawmakers every year a list of disciplinary actions. Hawaii County is first in this session.
The Hawaii County Police discipline report lists things that got HPD officers fired or suspended. The year before that there had been no firings, but this year’s list had three. I asked the chief what went wrong.
“Like anything else it goes in spurts,” Chief Paul Ferreira told Always Investigating. “Some years you’ll have issues that come up and officers that will go before the review board, and the review board will look at it and say they’re recommending discharge.”
Topping the list was a tampering case involving drugs in a Hilo evidence room. It came to light when cocaine in lockup was found to be lighter than when it was first busted. More cross-checks found some marijuana had gotten lighter too. County prosecutors were alerted, and they punted to the attorney general over a conflict of interest.
“It’s not unusual that prosecutors will conflict out a case if there’s an appearance of impropriety,” explained Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth. “So if there’s somebody who is related to somebody oftentimes we’ll conflict. if there’s relationships either positive or negative. At any one time we may have two or three cases from other offices and at any one time other offices are handling two or three conflicts from each office.”
The case got assigned to the Honolulu prosecutor’s office where it was dropped with no charges filed. The Honolulu prosecutor’s spokesperson said in a statement, “Based on the evidence presented to us there is no probable cause to support a charge of Securing the Proceeds of an Offense or any other crime.”
Despite no charges or convictions, Chief Ferreira told Always Investigating, “We did make adjustments to our procedures, we did also do additional training to our officers and to our evidence room. So any time something like this happens, any kind of discipline happens in the department, we take a look at it. Do we have to adjust our procedures? Do we have to adjust our policies?”
A firing over assault of a juvenile suspect also was referred for charges; the chief says that one did go to court.
A whole bunch of other conduct was not referred for criminal review and was handled only with internal discipline, including an officer caught writing traffic citations for false violations. The chief tells us it was not systemic.
“It was putting information on a ticket that didn’t match the violation,” Ferreira said.
Always Investigating clarified whether it was a ghost ticket-writing situation.
“No,” Ferreira said.
Always Investigating asked the Hawaii County prosecutor, where along the threshold of that kind of conduct with traffic violations would he expect it to be referred up to prosecution.
“Well, if they’re violating a criminal law generally the police department is going to refer those cases to our office,” Roth said. “And then of course we’re going to look at those cases to see if we can prove those cases beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Asked whether to his knowledge if there any police-related cases referred by HPD that were declined for prosecution this year, Roth said, “To my knowledge, no.”
We will continue to report on the county police discipline reports as they’re posted from Honolulu, Kauai and Maui counties.
Click here to read the Hawaii County police discipline report.