Maui cops shootingWAILUKU >> A Maui police officer who said his bulletproof vest saved his life in a traffic stop shooting is under investigation for perpetrating a hoax by shooting himself, officials said yesterday.
believed to be hoax
Detectives think he shot himself
because of personal issues
By Gary T. Kubota
"I think it's appropriate to apologize to the community in general," Police Chief Thomas Phillips said. "It's obviously embarrassing to the department.
"It created some fear in the department. It created some fear in the community."
Phillips said Maui detectives believe police officer Donald Nakooka, 32, shot himself because of "some significant personal issues."
Nakooka, a 10-year police veteran, has been placed on paid leave pending an investigation. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Detectives executed a search warrant Monday at Nakooka's residence and recovered a 9 mm pistol owned by him and believed to be the weapon used in the shooting.
Nakooka told detectives he was shot during a traffic stop at about 1:55 p.m. on Dec. 4 in West Maui.
He received a bruise in the abdomen the size of a silver dollar from the shot into his protective vest and spent two nights at Maui Memorial Medical Center for observation.
An islandwide manhunt that included helicopters, road blocks, and search dogs was launched to find a skinny man described by police as driving a gray, silver or metallic car.
Phillips said detectives became suspicious because the physical evidence did not seem to fit Nakooka's description of the shooting scene along Honoapiilani Highway, about a half mile north of Office Road in Kapalua.
Police said they looked at a number of factors, including the absence of gunpowder residue and the shell casing.
Police also could not find anyone who heard the gunshot.
The chief said Nakooka has made no statement to refute detectives' suspicion.
Phillips said Nakooka recovered the 9 mm pistol at an undisclosed location after his release from the hospital last week and took the gun home. Detectives declined to say whether the gun was fired recently.
"We still have a lot of forensic testing," acting Capt. Glenn Cuomo said.
According to police, the actual shooting took place in an off-road location at Honolua, and Nakooka drove to Kapalua where he made the emergency call that he had been shot.
Counseling was being offered to officers who experienced difficulty coping with recent revelations, Phillips said, adding that he himself felt "some anger."
He said he was worried about the repercussions from such a hoax and its damage to the department.
Phillips said before the shooting incident, he thought of Nakooka as a "nice guy."
He said despite the repercussions, police detectives came forward with their findings about Nakooka.
"He obviously had some substantial personal problems," Phillips said. "We feel bad for him ... but we also want to do the right thing."