"Here I was helping people all my life, not hurting anyone, and my family was dying all around me. Needless to say, I was depressed, but refused to get help for fear of losing my job. Also (I had) the old mentality of 'I'm a policeman, I can handle.'"

Robert Sylva
Former HPD officer in letter to former colleagues in Kalihi

Imprisoned ex-HPD officer
writes ‘tear-jerker’ letter

A former Honolulu police officer who is charged with selling crystal methamphetamine urged his former colleagues "not to make the same mistakes" he did, and attempted to explain how he ended up behind bars.

Robert Sylva, 49, who is being held in the Federal Detention Center while pending trial, wrote an eight-page letter on Aug. 2 to the officers of the Kalihi police station asking that it be read during lineup or posted on a bulletin board.

Addressing it to the day-shift officers, Sylva wrote that after working in Kalihi for 22 years, he was not looking for sympathy, but just wanted to "get this straight with you, the ones I worked with and loved for so long."

"I want you all to know that I did love my job and never ever put any of beat partners at risk nor any of the public," he wrote. "No matter what the media or anyone else says, I did not go around on duty selling drugs!"

Sylva was charged with selling ice on three occasions, including once when Sylva was wearing his HPD uniform. He wrote that his troubles began when he started a relationship with a woman who had a drug problem and whose best friend was a confidential informant for the FBI.

"I had gotten fond of this person, one thing led to another," he wrote. "I'm not saying that what I did was okay because it was for a friend, just that the only reason it happened was because it was for a friend."

Sylva went on to describe the events that led to his arrest by FBI agents on March 28, starting with his wife leaving him, and followed by the respective deaths of his mother, his 12-year-old son, and his father, all within 18 months. He said both his parents died of cancer, and his son died of complications stemming from his being born five months premature.

"His mother and I took care of him as best we could," Sylva wrote. "My son had so many problems, but always had the most beautiful smile."

Sylva said after burying three family members in a row he began to blame God for what happened and saw his job in a different light.

"He never answered not one of my prayers to help any of my family," he wrote. "I remember coming back to work and going to cases where these crumbs would have the most beautiful children ... and these crumbs would either be beating them up or not taking care of them.

"Here I was helping people all my life, not hurting anyone, and my family was dying all around me. Needless to say, I was depressed, but refused to get help for fear of losing my job. Also (I had) the old mentality of 'I'm a policeman, I can handle.'"

Sylva said he went through a short span of being "rude with the public" and went around without his bulletproof vest "hoping someone would kill me." He said this was followed by meeting a "bar maid" whom he said "must have saw a big fish with all my pain."

Sylva said to "keep her happy and to ease my pain it cost me $100,000" of his retirement money which he took out early, and the loss of his family home which was left to him by his parents.

"Anyway, when the money ran out and the house was gone, so was the bar maid," he wrote.

While in prison Sylva said he found a friend in former Pearl City police officer Harold Cabbab, who was arrested last December for allegedly trying to steal a fake drug shipment planted by federal agents. However, he wrote that he and Cabbab are now not allowed to talk to each other and cannot be in the recreation room together.

"I don't know why we can't talk, we're not on the same case ... Anyway, Cabbab and I just yell through the doors to make sure we're both all right."

"Prisons are not made for policemen. We both hope they can find a prison for us where we can be with the general population where nobody knows who we are."

Toward the end, Sylva wrote he should have held himself together so he could raise his preteen daughter, and he asked that every police officer who reads the letter consider his situation a lesson to be learned.

"Instead of being mad at God for all my losses, I should have been thanking him for what I still had. I still had a great job, the love of my daughter, and the freedom to do what I choose.

"I thought I'd be retiring in a couple of years, I never thought I'd be retiring to a federal prison."

HPD Maj. Susan Ballard was assigned to the Kalihi station about a year before Sylva was arrested. She said after reading the letter she gave it to the daywatch crew and let them make copies of it and pass it around.

"Personally it is a tear-jerker, and it would be hard for anyone to go through what he went through," she said. "But, being a police officer, you are required to make good decisions, and breaking the law is not a good decision.

"We all have to live with the decisions we make and the consequences of those decisions."

Sylva has pleaded not guilty and could face 10 years in prison if convicted.

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