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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 26, 2002

HPD disciplines dozen in Arakawa crash case

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

At least 12 Honolulu police officers have been suspended or demoted for their part in the investigation of the late-night collision between retired police officer Clyde Arakawa and a 19-year-old woman killed in the crash in October 2000, a police union official said yesterday.

Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue imposed the discipline in letters recently sent to the officers, according to Kimo Smith, O'ahu chapter chairman of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

Smith said the officers, the highest-ranking of whom is a lieutenant, are believed to be the largest number of officers disciplined for one incident in the department's history and the number could increase. He said the suspensions and demotions ranged from "days to months" and would cost some officers thousands of dollars in lost income. Suspended officers are not paid, and demoted officers suffer pay cuts, Smith said.

Donohue declined to answer questions about the officers, citing a collective-bargaining agreement with SHOPO, but he said the disciplined officers are not facing any criminal charges, according to Honolulu police spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

Smith said he was given no specifics on why the officers were disciplined, but he said the action related to the Arakawa case and involved the "entire investigative package from beginning to end" and the "totality of the investigation."

Both the union and Donohue declined to release the name of the officers.

The Arakawa case sparked a public uproar when it was disclosed that he was treated differently than other suspects in fatal collisions.

Arakawa, 50, was an off-duty officer when his 1993 Ford Thunderbird collided Oct. 7, 2000, with the Honda Civic driven by Dana Ambrose, a Hale'iwa resident who suffered fatal injuries. Arakawa retired at the end of that month.

Police initially insisted that the investigation was handled the same as any other case, but Donohue later acknowledged that Arakawa received special "courtesies" not given to other suspects in fatal crashes. Donohue promised to take disciplinary action if any was warranted.

After the 11:15 p.m. collision, the police union notified a lawyer, who appeared at the crash scene, and Arakawa was allowed to roam freely without being handcuffed or under supervision.

Donohue had said that the courtesies would not jeopardize the criminal investigation.

Arakawa was later charged with manslaughter. He is accused of causing the death by driving drunk and running a red light. His defense is that he had the right of way and Ambrose ran a red light. A jury has been selected for his trial and opening statements are scheduled in Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Yu yesterday said it's not unusual for discipline to be handed out more than a year after the collision because police need to investigate the allegations of misconduct and conduct interviews.

Smith said the discipline could take effect in the next few days or next week regardless if the officers appeal the discipline.

The number of disciplined officers may increase because more officers may be notifying the union about disciplinary action, he said. The union is prepared to give officers the opportunity to go through a grievance process that allows for due process, he said, adding that he didn't know if any of the officers wished to contest the findings.

Smith said grievance proceedings generally can last months or even years. If successful, officers can receive back pay or days lost. Smith said the union is still gathering information on the cases, and said he could not determine whether the discipline was warranted.

"Without having any facts or specifics on what these officers were suspended or demoted for, I wouldn't be able to comment on fairness," Smith said. "I would have to see what the issues were."

Smith said the disciplined officers are going to be a priority with the union because of the number of officers and the severity of the discipline.

Reach Brandon Masuoka at 535-8110 or bmasuoka@honoluluadvertiser.com.