Hawai’i County Police Commission finishes questioning chief finalists; deliberations begin Friday
December 13, 2022, 6:47 PM HST
On Tuesday, the Hawaiʻi County Police Commission wrapped up two days of public testimony and questioning of the four finalists for police chief, with inquiries about a questionable hotel stay and a discrimination lawsuit.
Vice Chair Thomas Brown said public deliberations about the candidates — Paul Applegate, Sherry Bird, Edward G. Ignacio and Benjamin T. Moszkowicz — will begin at the next commission meeting, at the County Council Chambers in Hilo on Friday at 9 a.m. To attend virtually via Zoom, click here. The meeting ID is 160 645 4115 and the passcode is 627133.
While Monday’s questions were vague and non-specific to the department or a candidate, on Tuesday the Police Commission honed in on concerns of officer retention, training, corruption and retaliation within the department that were raised by current officers who testified.
The first question was directed at Maj. Bird, a 24-year veteran at the Hawaiʻi Police Department. She was asked about her involvement with the Ironman World Championships in October.
Commissioner Denby Toci said the commission received receipts of Maj. Bird’s four-day hotel stay at the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha Beach Hotel during the two races that were held in Kailua-Kona on Oct. 6 and 8. She asked Bird if she filed a gift disclosure with the Board of Ethics.
Bird said she did not because she was operating as a commander for the police operations of the event.
“That’s not considered a gift,” Bird said, adding the purpose of her stay at the hotel was to be readily available to respond onsite.
Between the athletes, their families and spectators, Bird said there were at least 28,000 people from around the world at the triathlons, which began at sunrise and ended at 11 p.m. She said law enforcement had to be readily available should something major happen.
“I was operating in an official capacity, that is not a gift or a gratuity,” Bird reiterated. “What many don’t know is after the race is completed … there’s a lot of post-planning and pre-planning, planning for the next event that’s going on. And I need to be able to be there to make decisions.”
Commissioner Dylan Andrion revisited the question with Bird asking her of the perceived conflict of interest and if she stands by her statement that the hotel stay wasn’t a gift or gratuity.
While she would consider revisiting the issue as a perceived conflict, she stood by her position, saying: “It was there for me to use the restroom, to maybe get a couple hours sleep, but it wasn’t a reward for my position.”
Vice Chair Brown questioned Capt. Applegate, who is the Acting Assistant Chief, Patrol Services Bureau at the Kauaʻi Police Department, about his lawsuit against his department and Kauaʻi Police Chief Todd G. Raybuck. The lawsuit claims he was denied a promotion because of his race. Applegate is part Japanese.
Brown asked if there were any other legal matters he had and would it affect his performance as chief of police if he were selected.
“I was waiting for that question,” Applegate said, adding he had no other legal issues pending and assured the commissioner that the lawsuit would in no way hinder his ability to perform duties as chief of police.
While he couldn’t go into the specifics of lawsuit, Applegate said: “I am a person who will not stand by idly if someone is discriminated against, whether it’s myself or someone else. I would take action as evidence of what you’re referring to.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu in August 2021, alleges Chief Raybuck mocked the physical appearance of Japanese people during a July 2020 meeting with Applegate to discuss the Kauaʻi Police Department’s assistant chief selection process.
Raybuck allegedly squinted his eyes and repeatedly bowed to Applegate, according to an amended version of Applegate’s initial complaint, which also claims the police chief stated “he could not trust Japanese people because they do not always tell the truth.”
“He then stated that the western culture ‘tells it like it is,’ whereas the Japanese culture says ‘yes, yes, yes’ to your face even when they think the person’s idea is stupid,” the complaint continued.
Chief Raybuck was issued a five-day unpaid suspension and required to complete Equal Employment Opportunity and Cultural Sensitivity Training in April 2021, after a County of Kauaʿi Department of Human Resources investigation concluded the police chief violated the county’s policy against discrimination during workplace meetings in November 2019 and July 2020.
During public testimony for the Hawai’i Police Chief on Tuesday, several testifiers spoke in favor of Bird, citing her hard work and integrity.
Hawai’i Police Department officer Mark Arnold, also an at-large board director for the State of Hawai’i Organization of Police Officers, attended both meetings on his own behalf to support Ignacio.
Two Hawai’i Police Department officers spoke passionately about upper management’s failure to its officers to provide adequate training and its inability to keep good officers.
“A lot of my colleagues have told me if I come up and speak today openly, I’m committing career suicide,” said 13-year HPD officer Justin Gaspar.
He did not endorse any candidate; but he spoke directly to all finalists saying rank and file would like to see fairness across the board, indicating there are no standardized operations across the department, with every district run differently.
“The monkey in the room is retention,” Gaspar said. “… It’s disheartening to myself when we put in the time and work into these well-qualified applicants [police officers] and they leave. We’re losing qualified applicants because of mismanagement that has been happening for decades and it’s an issue from the top.”
Gaspar said there is no recall training. He said it’s not an officers’ fault that they’re not being trained in current trends.
Gaspar also asked that the new police create an open promotion process. “We want transparency and we want change.”
Officer Chad Taniyama, a 25-year HPD veteran, said he thought long and hard about coming to testify. He said: “Hawaii Police Department has been stuck in the mud for years. Our upper management has failed. They failed to look toward the future.”
Taniyama spoke openly against Bird, saying she has the influence to make change and she hasn’t.
“If you really want to make change, you have to do it now,” he said.
All candidates spoke emphatically against the idea of retaliation within the department.
“Some valid points were brought up,” Bird said. “I truly appreciate them [testifiers] being a voice. I don’t promote or participate in a culture of retaliation.”
Honolulu candidate Maj. Ben Moszkowicz, a 22-year veteran with the Honolulu Police Department, said there’s no room for retaliation in the department. He noted the courage of the officers who spoke, especially with their concerns of losing their careers in law enforcement.
“Best way to heal those problems is to bring them out in the open,” Moszkowicz said.
In regards to retention, candidate Ignacio, a retired Senior Resident Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said he’s been talking to officers and they feel like they’re not being heard.
“I think we need to address that issue through leadership and training,” he said. “We can’t keep losing this talent.”
With regards to retaliation, Ignacio said inappropriate behavior is unacceptable and would be dealt with swiftly if he were selected as chief.
Commissioner Andrion also expressed concern with Moszkowicz over the lack of public testimony in his favor. The Honolulu police officer acknowledged that, noting he isn’t from the Big Island. He instead emphasized his career spent developing himself academically and professionally.
“I intentionally did go out and drum up some support,” Moszkowicz said. “I understand this isn’t a popularity contest. I would hope you’d look at the total sum. My skillset is broader based on an executive level.”
Vice Chair Brown said the Police Commission hopes to select the new police chief by the end of the year. Former Hawai’i County Police Chief Paul Ferreira retired on Aug. 31, 2022. Kenneth Bugado Jr. has been serving as acting police chief.
Pacific Media Group reporter Scott Yunker contributed to this report.