Prosecutor’s office staffer sues alleging retaliation after federal grand jury testimony

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Over the span of her 13 years at the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, investigator Debra Takehara received commendations and awards, no negative performance reviews, and a 2018 “Employee of the Year” award.

“Prior to her testifying with the grand jury and prior to her making complaints about sexual harassment she had a sparkling and sterling, all of her work performance was never called into question,” said Joseph Rosenbaum, of the firm Fujiwara and Rosenbaum LLC, attorneys for Takehara.

In the fall of 2018, Takehara got an FBI subpoena to testify at the federal grand jury. At the time she had been assigned to the Makiki apartment complex that used to serve as a prosecutor’s office safehouse for abuse victims. Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro had arranged for the city to buy it from a major campaign donor.

It has since closed and no residents are there.

“There are allegations within the lawsuit that my client was witness to the shredding of documents,” Rosenbaum said. “She was there at the Honolulu prosecutor’s safehouse and so she had first-hand knowledge of what was going on and that’s exactly why she was called to the grand jury, so when she becomes a witness in the grand jury the prosecutor’s office is looking at her and putting pressure on her in our belief to get her not to reveal something that they might be worried about.”

Allegations of retaliation, hostile work environment, sexual harassment and more are detailed in a 30-page lawsuit she filed against the department and the city.

“We have all kinds of obstruction of justice and we’re seeing it, I believe, in the prosecutor’s office,” said Elizabeth Fujiwara, also representing Takehara.

Always Investigating asked Fujiwara, who does she think is ultimately responsible for the obstruction of justice; who is conducting it then and now?

“It would be at the highest levels of administration at the prosecutor’s office,” Fujiwara said.

She says that includes Kaneshiro, who’s been on leave since March after receiving a federal target letter, and his replacement Dwight Nadamoto, who recently received a subpoena and testified before the federal grand jury.

“It seems like they were definitely trying to strong-arm or twist her arm to get her to side with them and get her not to reveal something that could be detrimental to the prosecutor’s office,” Rosenbaum said.

KHON2 asked, is that a potential federal charge that could be filed?

“I don’t want to speak to that,” Rosenbaum said.

The mainland-based federal prosecutor’s office that is handling the ongoing investigation here did not respond to questions about whether they’re looking into witness tampering charges, or if or when the grand jury will lead to more indictments.

“Now that we know that Nadamoto has received a request to also testify at the grand jury,” Rosenbaum said, “that raises extra questions about his involvement and what he did or didn’t do with regard to conduct that is being investigated by the federal government.”

The suit alleges Nadamoto initiated a police report against her but that Nadamoto misrepresented to her where it all started.

“The understanding from the police department was that the administration started a terroristic threatening complaint against my client, made up a false witness who has since that time admitted that she wanted no part of it and made no complaint,” Rosenbaum said.

Honolulu City Councilmember Ron Menor told KHON2 in a statement:

“I find the lawsuit troubling especially since Mr. Nadamoto gave disappointing and evasive answers during a council committee hearing when councilmembers asked him questions about the corruption that took place in the prosecutor’s office. I am hopeful that pertinent facts about the prosecutor’s office will be uncovered and that justice will be served in connection with the lawsuit.”

Ron Menor, Honolulu City Councilmember

The complicated story includes Katherine Kealoha, who comes up in the lawsuit but is not a named defendant.

“My client was assigned to investigate a particular crime alongside Katherine Kealoha,” Rosenbaum said, “and that is the direct connection that my client ever had to Ms. Kealoha.”

KHON2 asked, did she witness something amiss or improper in that assignment?

“Not that has been alleged in this complaint and not that will be made public at this time,” Rosenbaum said.

KHON2 asked if this is something else that could come up at federal court?

“That’s always a possibility,” Rosenbaum said.

The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney told KHON2 in a statement:

“The allegations in the lawsuit parallel allegations already independently investigated by the city’s Equal Opportunity Office. Those allegations were unsubstantiated. The EOO report concludes the people in the complaint did not retaliate against Takehara as alleged.’”

The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney

Takehara’s attorney’s said she received a right-to-sue letter after the state agency Hawaii Civil Rights Commission reviewed the allegations.

“The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney looks forward to an opportunity to vigorously defend against the lawsuit,” the statement from the prosecutor’s office added.

As for that city-owned safehouse in Makiki, once the prosecutor’s office relinquished control earlier this year, the city office of community services started working on an RFP for new management. According to Councilmember Tommy Waters, the city has selected a provider who will focus on helping domestic violence victims, and the city is currently working on a contract.

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