SHOPO sues Hawaii County over disclosure law

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The statewide police union is now suing all four counties in an effort to keep the names of officers fired or suspended for disciplinary reasons secret until all grievance avenues for the officers are exhausted.

Two civil suits were filed Friday against Hawaii and Maui counties by Honolulu attorneys Vladimir Devins and Kalani Alapa, representing the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, known as SHOPO. Similar complaints were filed earlier this month against the County of Kauai and City and County of Honolulu.

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At issue is a new law enacted Sept. 15 by Gov. David Ige that makes the disciplinary files of officers who are fired or suspended public record.

The police union opposed the changes, saying the law violates the privacy rights of officers and the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the counties and seeks to have the law declared unconstitutional.

The suits claim the law “is not designed to promote a significant and legitimate public purpose” and “is clearly arbitrary and unreasonable and has no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare.”

Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira said Friday that he hadn’t been served with the suit and couldn’t comment. He said he would discuss it with the county’s Corporation Counsel once the suit is served.

Jeff Portnoy, a Honolulu attorney who represents the Tribune-Herald and other media outlets and is an expert on public records laws, said, “All they’re trying to do is protect their police officers from public disclosure.”

“It’s hard to understand or believe that SHOPO would continue this unconstitutional battle to prevent the public from learning about bad police officers who commit bad acts,” Portnoy continued. “And they keep coming up with the same arguments that have either been refuted or have no basis in the first instance that releasing these names violates the privacy of disciplined police officers or subjects them to potential harm. … You’d think in 2020, with all that’s going on around the country regarding police misconduct, that SHOPO would be supportive of the Legislature’s … finally getting around to re-enacting a statute that had been in place before they amended it after the Supreme Court had ordered this kind of information to be released almost a decade ago.”

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A Friday phone call to SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu wasn’t returned in time for this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.