Special Report { Uncovering Police Misconduct In Hawaii

In the Name of the Law: UH Students vs. The Police

Joe Rubin

Part 2 of a 5-part series

Click here to read all the stories in Civil Beat's special report: In The Name Of The Law.

On March 29, 1994, nearly 500 police officers staged a show of force at the state courthouse in downtown Honolulu the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the islands before or since.

The huge demonstration was meant to intimidate a handful of University of Hawaii journalism students who wanted to know the names of Honolulu police officers who had been suspended or discharged for misconduct.

Patrol cars took up every parking space around the building, and officers packed into shuttles running between the Blaisdell Center parking lot and Punchbowl Street.

Not only were the students already entitled to the information under the state’s public records law, but a Circuit Court judge and the Hawaii Supreme Court would later rule that the public has a "fundamental" right to know that police power is being kept in check.

Still, Hawaii’s police union worked alongside the Honolulu Police Department and the city to keep information on police misconduct out of the public's hands.

The UH students' inquiry triggered a three-year legal battle over government transparency that today continues to leave the public in the dark about officer wrongdoing.

The case also galvanized the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), which used the threat against its rank and file to build its political muscle. Even now, SHOPO remains one of the most influential political organizations in the state.

Civil Beat tried numerous times over the past six months to interview SHOPO officials. None would agree to an interview and didn't return more recent calls asking again for an interview.

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