KAILUA-KONA — Evidence tampering, assaults against youth and other allegations of misconduct were among a disciplinary report submitted to the state Legislature by the Hawaii Police Department.
On Jan. 8, Police Chief Paul Ferreira submitted the report to Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi. Overall, there were seven suspensions, two discharges and one sworn employee held in abeyance during an internal investigation in connection to stolen drugs from an evidence locker. The detective later retired before the investigation could be completed.
“Anytime there is an incident of misconduct it is disappointing,” said Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Bugado on Wednesday.
Bugado said officers are kept to a high standard and bound by strict directives of the department’s policies and procedures.
“Although there are varying degrees of severity, anytime an officer willfully violates department directives, it is surprising since we all enter this profession and pledge to uphold the law,” he said. “I don’t know why someone would want to tarnish what the badge stands for.”
In March 2018, police officials confirmed they were investigating one of their own for reportedly stealing drug evidence from the Hilo evidence storage facility. The case was referred to the Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office, which then passed it to the state attorney general’s office to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
The initial police investigation began in the fall of 2017 after it was discovered an amount of cocaine, originally seized in 2014, was found to be lighter than initially reported.
The investigation identified a veteran officer of nearly 25 years as a person of interest for the missing portion of the drug. The detective was placed on administrative leave without pay and subsequent audits of other evidence recovered by the officer revealed other anomalies, which led to the discovery of cases where there was a weight discrepancy in marijuana concentrate from two separate investigations.
The AG’s office assigned the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office to screen the case for charges. In July 2018, Honolulu prosecutors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.
“It is disappointing anytime an officer chooses to disobey the oath of office that we all swore we would abide by,” Bugado said. “It happens that in this case there was not enough evidence to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, although frustrating, it is no less frustrating than that of other investigations conducted on behalf of the community that meet the same fate.”
While the case was not prosecuted, the police department did identify areas in evidence procedures that could be strengthened.
Prosecutors also were notified about a second case, one in which an officer was arrested after striking a child. Bugado said the officer was a 10-year veteran and was charged with second-degree assault at the time of the incident.
Bugado didn’t identify the officer; however, West Hawaii Today reported about an incident in May 2018 in which Officer Daniel Kuwabara was charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for kicking a teenager in the leg and striking him on the side of the head with his hand.
Kuwabara pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in November. He was sentenced to one year probation, required to obtain an anger management assessment and write a letter of apology to the minor.
An officer was also discharged after testing positive on a mandatory drug test. Bugado said the officer tested positive for one of the listed drugs: cocaine metabolites, phencyclidine, opiate metabolites, amphetamines or methaqualone.
“Due to medical privacy issues, the exact drug cannot be disclosed,” the deputy chief said. “The officer had over 21 years with the department.”
Another officer was suspended for five days for inaccurate information on traffic citation(s).
Wayne De Luz, chairman of the county Police Commission, said the report was provided to the commission at its last meeting Jan. 18.
“I thought it was thorough,” De Luz said. “Not every concern is listed, but for the number of responded calls they do, I thought it was pretty low.”
In De Luz’s opinion, he thinks the police department does a good job.
“The biggest concern is mainly we’re losing a lot of our senior officers,” he said.
Email Tiffany DeMasters at firstname.lastname@example.org.