Secrecy veils probe
of Kauai police chief
The issue: Kauai officials spurn the
County Council's requests for
information about the investigation.
What is happening in the investigation of Kauai Police Chief George Freitas is a mystery -- to the County Council, the public and the chief himself -- and it should not be.
Cloaked in secrecy, the inquiry has the appearance of a witch hunt with county officials ignoring rules of procedure, the county attorney rebuffing the Council's attempts at oversight and Freitas being given only a bare-bones description of his alleged wrongdoings.
This disturbing situation began under a cloud on Aug. 13 when Mayor Maryanne Kusaka placed Freitas on administrative leave, but refused to say why or even confirm that he had been. Only after Kauai police officials leaked the information to news reporters did Kusaka confirm that Freitas is accused of interfering with the criminal investigation of a police officer.
The mayor took the action on the recommendation of the Kauai Police Commission, which by County Charter has the power to hire or fire the police chief, but not to suspend him. So technically, Freitas is on leave, but being barred from his office and his duties effectively suspends him.
Since then, the Council has sought information about the probe, but County Attorney Hartwell Blake has repeatedly refused to discuss the matter with them. Blake contends that doing so would violate Freitas' right to confidentiality. Freitas has been willing to waive that right in executive sessions with the police commission, but the panel refuses to tell him if and when it will be placing his case on its agenda, thus denying him the opportunity to do that.
The Council also asked for an executive session so it could at least be briefed on the matter out of the public eye, but Blake continues to resist. "I don't believe I have anything to tell you," he told the Council earlier this week.
When the Council pointed out that rules of the commission require that investigations be completed within 60 days, Blake blithely responded that the rules can be amended, ignoring the fact that law requires review and public comment for such amendments.
Meanwhile, Freitas has not been given complete details of the complaints filed against him and Blake has refused his request for them, saying the chief has been provided with "a summary."
If Kauai officials insist on shunting aside procedures, they can expect that Freitas will have lots of room for legal claims against them no matter how the investigation plays out.
Council members are correct in seeking information because they are charged with representing the public's interest and because ultimately taxpayers will have to foot the bill if Freitas prevails in a lawsuit. The chief, guilt or innocence aside, deserves to know the specifics of the charges. County authorities are wrong to deny these to him and the Council.
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