Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, November 4, 1996

The tragedy of the officer
and the student

HONOLULU Police Sgt. Arthur Miller is described by his mom and co-workers as a low-key, dedicated law-enforcement officer. Gabriel Kealoha, 17, is known as a friendly, caring, straight-A student to his Kamehameha School classmates. Both sides aren't lying. But now, Miller is dead, Kealoha is charged with second-degree murder, and the absolute truth may never be revealed.

This case continues to draw widespread interest on Oahu because of the public nature of the confrontation, and because a cop lost his life.

Last Sunday, on the H-1 viaduct near Honolulu Airport, cars driven by Miller and Kealoha pulled over to the side, apparently in a traffic dispute. After a scuffle, Miller was pushed or fell 33 feet to the Nimitz Highway pavement below. He later died from multiple internal injuries.

Kealoha has been released to the custody of his mother, and is under house arrest except for attending school and church. The Family Court will decide later this month whether he is to be tried as an adult.

What a mess - and a puzzlement. What really happened? Despite the Rashomon-type scenarios being bandied about, at least four points seem very clear:

Cellular sources. Thank goodness for the cellular phone. While few people want to get involved in an outdoor altercation, many more are willing to call for help. Several civic-minded motorists, in fact, did dial 911 last Sunday to describe the incident in progress and its tragic conclusion. As a result, authorities were dispatched to the scene quicker. More important, the reports themselves will be valuable evidence during the trial.

Media manipulation. The press always gets blamed for being too nosy, too negative, too everything. But what about the media's other role - dispenser of data detrimental to the enemy? The wooing of public sentiment began immediately. Both Miller and Kealoha were painted as pacifists who would never instigate a fight. Then information got leaked about Miller smelling of alcohol, an open beer can in his vehicle, even his recent divorce. That motivated his ex-wife to come forward and say that he had stalked her and had a booze problem. This case is being tried in the court of public opinion way before it hits the halls of the state judiciary.

The danger of alcohol. Sgt. Miller had a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 - double the legal limit - but that doesn't necessarily mean he attacked Kealoha in a drunken stupor and was probably at fault. It is a reminder to drivers, though, that if something does happen on the road after having a few, it's way too easy to hypothesize who's to blame. It doesn't matter if somebody has a very high tolerance level to alcohol; all that will be relevant and remembered is the significant little number after a tiny decimal point.

The danger of domestics. According to divorce papers, Miller's ex-wife said he threatened and harassed her, but nothing was done about it because he was a police officer. It might be lies. But aren't you getting tired of reading and hearing about HPD personnel - from beat cops to majors - who "allegedly" hit their women and get away with it because domestic violence is not deemed a serious enough crime? If police won't take seriously family abuse in their own homes, why should they be responsive when it happens elsewhere?

So many questions, so few answers. Ultimately, two lives are destroyed, but only the 17 year old is going through a living nightmare.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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