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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Big Island police chief praised by commission

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Lawrence Mahuna

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HILO, Hawai'i The number of complaints to the Big Island Police Commission alleging misconduct by officers has dropped over the last three years, a statistic cited by the commission in a glowing review of the performance of Big Island Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna.

In its evaluation, the nine-member commission predicted that under Mahuna, the once-troubled police department will "continue to rehabilitate itself in terms of community credibility."

The commission received an average of almost 63 complaints a year alleging officer misconduct in the decade before Mahuna took charge. However, since Mahuna took over the department four years ago, that average declined to about 39 per year, according to commission statistics.

At the same time, "the commission has correspondingly witnessed an increased willingness on the part of this chief to appropriately investigate charges of misconduct against police officers ... and mete out appropriate discipline," according to the evaluation.

Four Big Island police officers were fired for misconduct in 2004 and four more were fired in 2005, according to reports of police disciplinary cases that are provided to the state Legislature each year.

The four terminations of officers in either of those two years amounted to more firings than the combined total for the Big Island department from 1999 to 2003.

There were no firings in 1999, 2001 or 2003, while three Big Island officers were fired in 2002 and one was terminated in 2000, according to statistics supplied by Big Island police.

The commission evaluation earlier this month praised Mahuna for trying innovative strategies for reaching out to the public but urged him to seek more money for maintenance and facilities "as it is evident many of HPD's facilities are in various states of disrepair."

The Big Island police department has 403 officers and is trying to fill 27 vacancies.

Mahuna joined the department in 1973 and was named chief at the end of 2002 in the wake of a long, high-profile series of crimes and mishaps that were generally seen as eroding the department's credibility.

Those cases included that of police sergeant Kenneth Mathison, who murdered his wife in 1992, and Kona detective Albert Pacheco, who murdered his wife in 2002. Both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1997, police officer Jeffrey Darrow killed fellow officer Kenneth Keliipio in a car crash and was subsequently convicted of drunken driving and third-degree negligent homicide.

The department was also criticized for the six-year investigation of the 1991 rape and murder of Dana Ireland in Puna that case also ended in a conviction and the department endured a protracted lawsuit over a promotion cheating scandal that turned out to be the most expensive legal case in county history.

The county agreed to pay $2 million to 19 current and former police officers in the case, but by the time the lawsuit was settled in 2003, the county had already paid $3.5 million in lawyers' fees in connection with the suit.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.