Kealohas fire back at ethics commission with their own federal complaint

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Honolulu’s chief of police, Louis Kealoha, and his wife Katherine, a deputy prosecutor, are firing back at the city ethics commission, saying they’ve been unfairly targeted for years.

They also say they’re not the only ones, so they’ve filed a federal civil rights complaint.

They say an avalanche of ethics commission investigations started coming down on them under two years ago, but it hadn’t always been that way.

“I’ve never received that many ethics investigation complaints in the six and a half years I was police chief,” said Louis Kealoha.

The Kealohas say there have been 16 cases that involve them since 2014, that they know of, out of a caseload of about 100 a year, all being handled by the one investigator the ethics commission is given a budget to staff for.

“I believe that once the community finds out the types of investigations that the ethics commission staff had engaged in, I think they will be outraged,” said Katherine Kealoha, “and really that should be looked at in terms of the abuse of county resources.”

The ethics commission isn’t disclosing the status of the inquiries.

The Kealohas tell us all of them were self-initiated by the executive director and his then-investigator, a retired HPD officer.

“When she came on board, we had all of these complaints come one time. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Louis Kealoha. “One reason I think, which I cannot really verify, is I sat on the promotional committee and she didn’t get promoted, so maybe she’s blaming me.

“The second thing is that she had applied to be the police chief when I applied,” he added.

We reached out to the now-former investigator for her side of the story, but she declined to comment.

The Kealohas allege executive director Chuck Totto also targeted them. Through his attorney, Totto declined to tell us his side.

Cases included their niece and her husband living in the Kealohas’ cottage for no rent. Both were police officers in their jobs before Kealoha was chief.

“There is a clear exemption for individuals who are within the fourth contignuity of bloodline, and this is my sister’s daughter, so she is within the second,” Katherine Kealoha explained. “I’m sure that people are aware in Hawaii that families live together, yet they spent a considerable amount of time and interviewing individuals about whether that was okay.”

The Kealohas allege Totto and the former HPD officer self-initiated all of the known cases with no outside complainants. The commission board moved the two off the Kealoha investigations. but the ethics commission brought in a Big Island attorney as an independent investigator.

“Very shortly, I think these matters will be completely resolved, and I believe they will be resolved to our satisfaction,” said Katherine Kealoha.

The Kealohas say none of the allegations stuck besides what they call inadvertent differences of community board service information on their respective financial disclosure forms, which they have agreed to correct and pay a small administrative fee.

The ethics commission isn’t responding to our efforts to confirm that.

The Kealohas allege the commission’s actions are partially behind the federal investigation they’re now facing for possible corruption charges.

“There was no due process. It’s the ethics commission staff that really abused the county resources in taking these investigations, leaking them to the media and providing false information to the FBI,” said Katherine Kealoha.

“I want people to understand, we did nothing wrong and this is politically motivated. We’re the victims in this. We’ve done nothing wrong,” said Louis Kealoha.

Now, they’re striking back by filing a civil rights complaint that’s been taken up by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging systematic discrimination by county ethics over the past decade in which non-whites have more and tougher investigations and higher fines.

“The people who were Caucasian had received limited investigation, if any, and limited punishment, if any, even though there were significant violations that had occurred,” said Katherine Kealoha. “Yet when I look at what I deem to be the local group, which were Asians or Pacific Islanders, their investigations were very large and very broad in range and their punishment was significant compared to the other individuals who were Caucasian.”

That’s just for matters that made it to investigation. The Kealohas’ EEOC filing alleges legitimate complaints being ignored.

“They had gone to the ethics commission staff and they made complaints to the ethics commission staff, and instead of assisting those whistleblowers with identifying whether there were conflicts or not, they spun it around and they started investigating the whistleblowers themselves,” said Katherine Kealoha. “There are a lot of people within the county who do not want these allegations to be brought to light.”

The ethics commission has the EEOC allegations on its agenda for next week’s executive session. The same calendar indicates they’re also gearing up for possible civil claims against them that could follow.

Ethics staff and board would not comment, but communications director Jesse Broder Van Dyke provided the following statement:

The City and County of Honolulu, as the employer of Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha, has received copies of charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by each of them.

In accordance with the EEOC rules, the individual’s name and basic information about the allegations of discrimination have been disclosed to the City, as employer. EEOC rules also provide that, during the course of the investigation, information about the charging party and the respondent are kept confidential by the EEOC and will not be disclosed to the public by the EEOC.

The City intends to fully cooperate with the EEOC in its investigation. In order for there to be an unbiased, neutral and objective investigation, the City declines to comment further on these charges.

“You need to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else again. That’s why we’re in and why we’re fighting,” said Louis Kealoha. “They spent so much resources and time looking at us when they should be looking at it and seeking real justice for the victims who need justice, because it’s really, it’s a shame the amount of money and time they spent on this, which is totally false.”

The ethics commission staff named aren’t the only ones the Kealohas allege are behind what they call politically motivated efforts to bring them down.

As our investigation continues, the chief calls out others. We’ll follow up on what another key commission, the police commission, has been doing throughout all this.

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