The Gabriel Kealoha manslaughter case has touched raw nerves and raised troubling questions about the secrecy of the Family Court, public trust in police and the racial animosities that divide us.
Kealoha case raises
The state Office of Youth Services rejected its panel's recommendation to grant Kealoha early release from his nine-month sentence for causing the death of police Sgt. Arthur Miller in an altercation on the H-1 freeway viaduct.
Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who had sought unsuccessfully to try Kealoha as an adult, objected to Kealoha's early release to attend the University of Hawaii after only two months in the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, saying it would trivialize the crime. Kealoha's family angrily accused Carlisle of racism and "politicizing" the issue.
Several points stand out in the story:
More than any other recent case, it shows how the archaic secrecy of Family Court proceedings serves nobody and needs to be changed. The public will never know the full story of what happened, leaving the judgment of police, prosecutors and the court open to wild speculation. Kealoha feels he has been denied his right to a public trial and he has received little of the privacy the system is supposed to afford juvenile offenders.
It's surprising how many people are quick to believe that Miller must have acted abusively and deserved what he got. Yes, he had been drinking and bore some responsibility for provoking the confrontation. But it's a big leap from there to a conclusion that he had to die and that Kealoha was an innocent victim of circumstances who bore no responsibility.
We need to remember that Family Court Judge Daryl Choy, after listening to impartial eyewitness accounts of the altercation, didn't buy Kealoha's story that he was just defending himself from Miller and there was nothing else he could do. According to police, witnesses described Kealoha as the aggressor.
So why didn't the police officer get the public benefit of the doubt that police always have enjoyed? Perhaps too many people have had their own unpleasant encounters with police -- or know people who have -- and find it all too plausible that an officer could have acted in the abusive manner Kealoha described.
Maybe the bullying battle of the police union SHOPO to shield officers from the public release of police disciplinary records has convinced people that police have more wrongdoing to hide than they actually do.
While it's easy to understand the family's desire to obtain Kealoha's early release, the racial attack they have delivered on Carlisle is below the belt. One relative said in a letter to the editor that when the "real story" comes out, "Carlisle's career will be finished and he'll be on the first rowboat back to New Jersey."
This has never been an acceptable way to conduct public discourse in Hawaii and we need to hear more voices saying so now. Carlisle is no racist. He's just a tough prosecutor doing his job. As our top elected law enforcement official, he has not only the right -- but an obligation -- to make his views known. If those who know the system don't speak out, how else are we going to hold courts and corrections officials accountable for what they do?
Kealoha got a major break when the Family Court decided to try him as a minor, sparing him a possible 20-year sentence in adult criminal court. He should be thankful for that.
Some kids in Florida this week got 15 years -- of which they'll have to serve a minimum of 13 years -- for a prank in which they caused a traffic death by taking down a stop sign.