HPD chief faces council over Mauna Kea deployment; police-powers suit in legal ping-pong

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More than 80 Maui and Honolulu police officers are back on their home islands after a week of duty at Mauna Kea. Honolulu’s police chief told lawmakers today, public safety on Oahu was never compromised during their absence.

Also today, Maui Police Department disclosed the extent of its Mauna Kea operation for the first time. A legal challenge that was supposed to get a TRO tomorrow was waylaid in court by what attorneys for the Honolulu Police Department told the court was a jurisdictional issue, but a plaintiff’s attorney characterizes as a bad-faith maneuver.

Always Investigating has confirmed 25 Maui police officers have wrapped up eight days on Mauna Kea and are back on the Valley Isle. MPD said Hawaii County’s police chief asked Maui’s chief for help, and that the state Attorney General’s office will be reimbursing travel and overtime expenses.

That’s the same agreement Hawaii County made with the Honolulu Police Department for its 56 officers that served for a week and were called back home, along with HPD vehicles, this Monday and Tuesday. Both Maui and Honolulu county police departments are still on the hook for the officers’ base salaries during the period.

As Always Investigating was first to report, Honolulu City Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi filed a resolution earlier this week demanding HPD answer to cost, authority and public safety questions about the deployment. Councilmember Ron Menor asked similar questions in a letter to the chief. Today, HPD Chief Susan Ballard answered some of their questions face to face.

“You’re saying that all the officers that went to the Big Island did not affect all of the coverage in all of our areas?” Tsuneyoshi asked Ballard at the hearing.

“Correct,” Ballard replied, “because the officers who went up were from different specialized units within the department as well as our special events division. patrol was not touched.”

Also today, Always Investigating has tracked a legal ping-pong going on between state and federal court involving a lawsuit that alleges Maui and Honolulu county police had no authority to go to Mauna Kea in the first place. While natural disaster shared resources are more common, state law dictates interisland policing is only valid on cases that originate in an officer’s original jurisdiction. Plaintiff Kalani Flores told us his challenge still stands, even though the officers were recalled.

“How can we be sure they won’t just come back the following week?” Flores said.

Ballard told the council that HPD officers could be needed again off-island.

“I’m not going to rule out that we will not go up again,” Ballard said. “If Hawaii County or any other police department — whether it’s Kauai or Maui are in need of our assistance… we will do that because we are a very small island and we have to help each other out.”

A state judge had set aside time Friday for a TRO hearing in the police-powers lawsuit, but Honolulu’s corporation counsel filed a notice of removal to federal court — effectively mooting any TRO hearing and making the plaintiff re-file federally.

Peter Olson, Kalani Flores’ attorney, told the federal court: it was a “bad faith” move that deprived the plaintiff “of his imminent hearing date to address imminent harm.”

Olson filed an amended complaint and asked that the case be remanded — sent back — to state court, something Maui and Big Island’s police chiefs did not oppose. After the amended complaint and the other chiefs’ motions were filed, a Honolulu corporation counsel’s subsequent filing on behalf of Ballard said state court would be fine again, but the TRO calendar had already been waylaid.

A federal judge is holding a hearing tomorrow afternoon on remanding the police-authority lawsuit back to state court.

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