Complaint Accuses Honolulu Police Chief of Targeting Union Officials

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers has filed a complaint against new police Chief Susan Ballard and the Honolulu Police Department, claiming SHOPO President Tenari Ma’afala and three other top union officials were unfairly transferred into undesirable positions.

The complaint, filed Monday, also alleges Ballard defamed Ma’afala and disclosed private information about him in comments she had made to online news outlet Civil Beat.

The Hawaii Labor Relations Board has scheduled oral arguments for the prohibitive-practices complaint to be heard March 16.

The rocky relationship between SHOPO and Ballard, who was sworn in as chief Oct. 31, stands in stark contrast to the union’s relatively smooth relations with retired chief Louis Kealoha, who was indicted in October on federal public corruption charges.

Peter Carlisle, former Honolulu mayor and prosecutor, said the purpose of a government workers union is to deal with the grievances and benefits of its members, “so it’s not all surprising that you would get this complaint.”

On the other hand, Carlisle said, “the chief is absolutely 100 percent correct to do exactly what she’s done, which is to stand up to and try and get those few people who are ruining the reputation of the Police Department, to get them isolated and out of the picture.”

The SHOPO complaint charges Ballard with violating the terms of the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the union. The agreement states the employer cannot transfer or reassign a union official unless the employee requests or volunteers for it, or if the transfer or reassignment is due to normal within-unit rotation, an operational need for special skills an officer may possess, or the employee is unable to perform the essential tasks of his or her assigned duties.

Ma’afala, an HPD sergeant, was reassigned Dec. 1 to the midnight patrol watch of the Waikiki district from the department’s Peer Support Unit. That same day, SHOPO Vice President Malcolm Lutu, an HPD sergeant, was transferred to the Major Crimes Section of the Criminal Investigations Division from the Criminal Intelligence Unit; SHOPO Secretary Michael Cusumano, an HPD lieutenant, was transferred to the Central Receiving Desk from the Criminal Intelligence Unit; and SHOPO at-large Director Don Faumuina was transferred to the midnight patrol watch of the Downtown Honolulu district from the Peer Support Unit.

The actions of CIU, whose unit members traditionally have been handpicked by the chief, have been a key part of the federal prosecutors’ case against Kealoha; his wife, city Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha; and other current and former officers.

As for the Peer Support Unit, Ballard told Civil Beat in December that Ma’afala and other members of the unit had abused overtime compensation. “Ballard’s accusations were patently false and defamatory,” the complaint said.

Ballard has declined to discuss the specifics of the complaint with media, citing its pending nature. HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said “she is aware of the complaint and looks forward to working with the union for the betterment of the community and all officers.”