Honolulu police chief on paid leave amid federal probe

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HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu's police chief surrendered his gun and badge Tuesday and went on paid leave from the department after receiving notification that he is the target of a federal investigation.

The investigation began more than a year ago. A federal grand jury is looking into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption.

Stepping down was Louis Kealoha's decision, acting police commission Chairman Max Sword said.

Four other officers also received letters saying they are targets of the investigation. They are on restricted duty.

Deputy Chief Cary Okimoto is acting chief. "In this particular situation being that he's the chief of police ... if he was to be reassigned and walks around the station or is at a desk, people still see him as the chief," Okimoto said.

Earlier Tuesday, Kealoha said in a statement that he voluntarily restricted his police authority, but he didn't mention the decision to go on leave. "There is no economic advantage to my staying on as chief, but if I leave the department now, I give credence to the baseless attacks," Kealoha's statement, which was distributed by the department, said.

The paid leave is for 30 days while the commission figures out what to do, Sword said. The commissioners will meet on Jan. 4. Kealoha earns $190,408 annually.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants the commission to take decisive action to keep the issue from dragging on, said Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya, who is acting mayor while Caldwell is vacationing abroad.

Attorney Myles Breiner said Kealoha has done nothing wrong and that the letter he received about the investigation was intended to intimidate his client.

Retired Officer Niall Silva pleaded guilty Friday to falsifying documents and altering evidence. He had testified at a 2014 trial against Gerard Puana, the uncle of Kealoha's wife, Katherine Kealoha. Puana had been accused of stealing the Kealohas' home mailbox, but the case ended in a mistrial after Louis Kealoha made inappropriate comments about Puana's criminal past. The charge was later dismissed.

Federal public defender Alexander Silvert, who represented Puana, said the Kealohas framed his client in an attempt to discredit him in a lawsuit Puana filed accusing Katherine Kealoha, a Honolulu prosecutor, of mishandling his mother's assets. A jury later sided with Katherine Kealoha.

Now, Puana is suing five police officers and the Kealohas, who filed a lawsuit against the city's Ethics Commission and two of its former employees over investigations the couple called illegal.

"I will continue to stand up for my police officers even if it means continued criticism from those who either do not care to understand, or who are pursuing their own political agenda," Louis Kealoha's statement said.

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