Category Archives: Crime

Civil Beat investigation draws some national attention

A Civil Beat investigation into the near-fatal beating of a 17-month old at an Ewa Beach daycare operated by the family of a Honolulu police officer has received some national attention.

The issue highlighted in in today’s “Pick of the news,” a daily summary of top reporting on criminal justice issues compiled by The Marshall Project, a national group that presses for criminal justice reform by highlighting top quality journalism on related issues from around the country and the world.

It was selected as one of just five featured stories, which included others from Oregon, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina.

The CB item is short and to the point, with a link back to the most recent Civil Beat story.

There are new allegations of dubious police work in Hawaii, where police officials have ordered a new review of an old investigation into a toddler abuse case. HONOLULU CIVIL BEAT

The original investigative story by John Hill, Civil Beat’s investigations editor, was published last week (“This Honolulu Toddler Nearly Died In An Assault But No Charges Filed“).

It has already triggered an HPD review of the case, which could lead to reopening of the matter.

Congratulations to Civil Beat and John Hill for the excellent work.

Another story caught my eye when I checked the Marshall Project website today: How to Leak Stories to The Marshall Project, Your guide to becoming a source.

It includes some very useful general advice for whistleblowers or insiders who want to share a tip:

What not to do

If you want to minimize — if not avoid entirely — any visible links between yourself and The Marshall Project, The Intercept offers some good, albeit technical, advice on becoming a whistleblower.

Don’t visit our website at work. Don’t subscribe to our daily newsletter with your work email account. Don’t tell anyone about your plans, and don’t use your work phone or email to contact us.

One bit of advice is decidedly low-tech.

If you really want to be anonymous when you contact us, the U.S. mail is a good way to go. Our colleagues at ProPublica offer this advice:

“U.S. postal mail without a return address is one of the most secure ways to communicate — authorities would need a warrant to intercept and open it in transit. Don’t use your company or agency mailroom to send something to us. Mail your package or envelope from an unfamiliar sidewalk box instead of going to a post office. You can mail us paper materials or digital files on, for example, a thumb drive.”

Series of search warrants in Kealoha probe

Hawaii News Now reporter Lynn Kawano got quite a scoop yesterday with its report that another search warrant had been served in the ongoing public corruption investigation involving the outgoing Honolulu Police Chief and his wife (“FBI raids second city building in police chief investigation“).

According to HNN, the FBI accessed a backup computer server that mirrors the Honolulu Police Department’s computer system. The server, located in the Frank F. Fasi Municipal Building, maintains copies of the HPD electronic files and images.

The search of the backup server came during the same week that the FBI served a similar warrant on the office Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, where Katherine Kealoha is a senior deputy, and a federal judge took possession of laptop computers used by Kealoha.

HNN quotes defense attorney Victor Bakke, who called the “unprecedented.”

Bakke also speculated that the series of search warrants indicates additional witnesses are now cooperating with authorities, describing additional details that are now being pursued.

The unusual investigation into the chief and his wife, a top city prosecutor, is finally starting to draw national attention. An Associated Press story by Jennifer Kelleher was picked up by ABC News and broke into broadcast and print news across the country (“FBI Serves Warrant at Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office“).

By the way, this morning’s online edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the state’s largest newspaper, does not yet have a story on this latest search warrant executed at the city’s main municipal office building.

Is Kealoha case expanding beyond the stolen mailbox?

I guess Friday the 13th wasn’t Keith Kaneshiro’s lucky day.

“Holy cow!”

That was the reaction of Honolulu Police Commission member Loretta Sheehan, a former prosecutor, when she learned that the FBI served search warrants yesterday at the Honolulu Prosecutor’s office, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s report on the raid published this morning (“Agents search servers, seize computers as part of Kealoha investigation“).

The raid and search warrant appear to be related to the ongoing grand jury public corruption investigation involving deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and her husband, embattled Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

The warrant allows federal investigators to search the computer server in the prosecutor’s office, which should provide access to emails and other documents.

I guess it shows that Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro’s refusal to cooperate when called before the grand jury was not an effective legal strategy nor an exercise in good judgement.

The search warrants follow letters notifying several people they are targets of the ongoing criminal probe, including the chief and a group of officers close to the chief.

Why all the fuss about a “stolen” mailbox?

Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube, who has been following this story since its inception, had a suggestive nugget in a story published on Monday, January 9 (“Is HPD Chief’s Departure Just The Beginning Of An ‘Ugly’ Mess?“).

Moreover, the investigation is bigger than just a missing mailbox, according to Alexander Silvert, the federal public defender who first uncovered evidence of wrongdoing that prompted the FBI to take action.

“The plea of guilty by Silva and the removal of the chief by the police commission is the tip of the iceberg,” Silvert said Saturday, referring to retired Honolulu officer Niall Silva, who is cooperating with federal investigators. “The grand jury investigation and the evidence we turned over is so much more far-reaching than what has come out to date.”

There is a long way to go and a lot more that has yet to come out that involves HPD and that involves other officials in other departments of the city and county,” Silvert says. “We are only in the beginning stages of what’s going to be a long, messy, ugly part of Hawaiian law enforcement history.”

Silvert is suggesting the whole mailbox incident just a step along the way of a broader corruption case that’s about the engulf the city.

Holy cow!

State Ethics Commission: Guards took $10,00 from Big Island inmate

Earlier this month, the State Ethics Commission disclosed the resolution of a complaint against an ACO (Adult Corrections officer) at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center.

It involves serious allegations of misconduct by these prison guards and leaves many unanswered questions.

The commission alleges Bernie Abella, and two other unnamed ACOs, arranged to take $10,000 from an inmate under their supervision. The inmate signed a power of attorney to one of the ACOs, who then used it to withdraw $10,000 from the inmate’s account in a Kona bank. After depositing the funds in his own account, he then wrote checks to each of the other ACOs involved.

Abella received $3,000, according to the commission.

The commission does not clarify the nature of this exchange. The ethics law prohibits any state official or employee “soliciting, accepting, or receiving a gift if it is reasonable to infer the gift is given to influence or reward the employee in the performance of his or her state duties.” The commission also viewed the case as involving violation of the “Fair Treatment” section of the law, which prohibits using one’s official position “to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exemptions, advantages, contracts, or treatment, for oneself or others . . . .”

So from the point of view of the commission in enforcing the gift law, it apparently didn’t matter whether the inmate had offered the ACOs money, presumably in exchange for some kind of special favors, or whether the three were using their positions of authority to “shake down” the inmate. The commission resolution doesn’t disclose whether the exchange of funds was related to any exchange of favors or other actions. And, of course, there are other less incriminating possibilities, but in a correctional situation it isn’t unrealistic to suspect the motives of those involved.

We also don’t know why this complaint came to the Ethics Commission, as it would appear to involved potentially criminal actions outside of its jurisdiction. Was any action taken by the Department of Public Safety or any other law enforcement agency? I tried a quick online search but didn’t find anything.

The commission says the case involved a “former inmate.” My guess is that the inmate went to the commission after being released from custody, and perhaps the statute of limitations had already expired for any potential criminal charges. But that’s just guessing.

The commission settled a complaint after the Abella agreed to pay a $1,500 administrative penalty and an additional $3,000 in restitution.

There is no indication of the fate of the additional $7,000 taken from the inmate and whether the commission, or any other agency, is attempting to claw back the additional funds.

And we’re left with questions about what the Department of Public Safety knew, and when did they know it? Did they have knowledge of the situation anytime between the end of 2009 and the present? What action was taken, if any?

According to the commission, Abella’s employment at HCCC ended in January 2010, just a month or so after the money was withdrawn from the inmate’s account and split among the three ACOs, but whether or how that was related to this scheme remains unknown.