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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 15, 2010

Arbitrator's ruling to reinstate fired Maui police officers upheld

By Lila Fujimoto
Maui News

WAILUKU Saying there wasn't a legal basis allowing him to vacate an arbitrator's award, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza yesterday confirmed an award reinstating two fired Maui Police Department officers.

While not commenting on the award, Cardoza noted that an arbitrator had concluded there wasn't enough proof that Martell Irish and Derek Kaaukai had beaten an arrested man who reported being driven to an Upcountry sugar cane field in the early-morning hours of Dec. 19, 2004.

"This court cannot assume the role of someone who can second-guess what's occurred at the arbitration stage," Cardoza said.

"The court understands the difficulty this case presents in the sense that the officers were terminated and relieved of their duties and responsibilities as police officers because it was alleged they engaged in criminal behavior, allegedly assaulting an individual while in custody and while being transported to the Wailuku Police Station.

"There's no question that, if established, individuals of that nature could not be law enforcement officers. And there's no question that the Police Department would be put in an impossible situation if they have to employ someone who engaged in such conduct. But the fact is, that was not established."

The officers were fired Oct. 14, 2005, after then-Police Chief Tom Phillips found there was "just cause" after reviewing criminal and internal investigations into the allegations.

Joseph Crisafulli reported he was beaten by two officers after he was arrested outside the Casanova Italian Restaurant and Deli in Makawao. Irish was transporting Crisafulli in a police car to the Wailuku Police Station when Crisafulli said the officer turned off Haleakala Highway near Keahua Junction and a second officer in a police car showed up.

Crisafulli described being punched, clotheslined, slammed into a patrol car, kicked several times in the side, and lifted by his shirt off the ground and placed back in a patrol car.

Crisafulli was charged with harassment and resisting arrest, but the charges were later dropped.

After a trial in February 2007, Irish was found not guilty of a misdemeanor assault charge.

Kaaukai wasn't charged and couldn't be identified by Crisafulli, but police determined Kaaukai participated based on cellular calls between him and Irish that night.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union filed grievances over the officers' firings.

In a decision issued Jan. 4, arbitrator Patrick Yim, a retired judge, sustained the grievances and ordered that Irish and Kaaukai be reinstated to their jobs.

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