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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

FBI probe of Kaua'i police disclosed

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i — FBI agents in recent months have been looking into several issues at the Kaua'i Police Department, according to a source familiar with the investigation who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the probe.

It is the latest blow to a department racked with lawsuits, internal disputes and leadership questions that have prompted at least two top elected officials on the island to request FBI intervention.

FBI agent Brandon Simpson, the agency's media coordinator in Honolulu, said that as a matter of policy, the FBI will not confirm or deny it is conducting a probe, unless there is an overriding public safety concern.

"We can't comment on any ongoing investigation," he said.

The source reported having been directly interviewed by FBI agents on issues involving misbehavior by police officers. He did not provide details.

The problems at the police department are not new. In 2003, Mayor Bryan Baptiste called on the U.S. attorney and the FBI to look into allegations of corruption within the department. That request followed the filing of a federal lawsuit that alleged, in part, that officers were trafficking in drugs. That lawsuit has still not been resolved.

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), said that within the past year, he also called the FBI and requested an investigation of the department, although he does not know whether the agency acted on the basis of his recommendation or had already launched its own inquiry. He said the FBI would not confirm to him the status of any probe.

"I've been getting calls from numerous people over the last year or more over the Police Department. There are allegations of payoffs, crooked officers, beatings, and a general declining faith and confidence in the police force. You take those telephone calls and you combine them with the lawsuits of one officer against another — and there have been several—and you have to act," Hooser said.

The Kaua'i County Council has recently authorized its own investigation of the department. Councilman Mel Rapozo, a former police officer, said there are multiple issues he hopes to review through the council, among them financial management questions and leadership issues.

Hooser said he has supported the council in its promised investigation and is pleased if the FBI is also looking at the department.

"I don't know who the good guys and the bad guys are. I just know it's a mess," Hooser said.

Former Kaua'i Police Chief George Freitas, who himself was investigated and had all but very minor charges dropped, said it is neither surprising nor unusual that the FBI should be asking questions.

"The nature of their task is to accept allegations of government corruption and to look into them. That's what their business is," Freitas said.

He said he has no direct information about any ongoing FBI probe.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.