Updated: September 30, 2022
The Maui Police Commission met on Wednesday to review complaints against Maui Police Chief John Pelletier and several members of his executive staff, alleging violations of policy and procedure.
Sergeant Nick Krau, the chair of the Maui Chapter of the State of Hawai’i Organization of Police Officers said the organization has been made aware of eight formal complaints from both SHOPO and non-SHOPO members.
“While I cannot discuss the specifics of the complaints, they certainly can be characterized as hostile workplace complaints that include harassment in the workplace and gender discrimination,” Sgt. Krau said in an email communication with Maui Now on Wednesday evening.
The complaints are comprised of five from females and three from males.
During a news conference in June, Chief Pelletier staunchly defended himself and his administration from the critical results of a survey taken by nearly 60% of his rank and file — and made public by the SHOPO Maui Chapter.
In the survey, more than one-third of the 158 respondents said they were considering leaving MPD within the next two years. At the time of its release, the department had 101 vacancies (25% of its budgeted force of 400).
At the two month mark, following his official hiring and swearing in on Dec. 15, 2021, Chief Pelletier highlighted his administration’s progress including work on a staffing study, creation of protocols for major case investigations, strategies for recruitment, and a review of the department’s budget and equipment. At the time, he was quoted as saying, “Do I think that morale by the rank-and-file of the majority is positive? Absolutely I do. No doubt.”
When asked about morale of the department, and how the commission should proceed, Sgt. Krau said, “Our morale survey was crystal clear, morale is horrible and needs to be improved immediately. Every MPD employee, sworn and non-sworn, is watching this process to see how the Police Commission deals with the most powerful people in the Department. Everyone is looking for fairness and equal treatment. We hope that occurs.”
Passionate testimony both for and against the administration
Testimony on Wednesday was received both in support of and against the chief and his staff. There were a total of 10 people who testified, including the Chief’s wife, community members, police officers, and an attorney who brought a workplace violence complaint against a county executive in a widely publicized case.
Among those testifying was Adi Eli Ad, who spoke favorably of the outreach efforts done by the new administration. He said, “I’ve never seen anyone from the police department reach out to real people, not just serving an agenda.”
In terms of “aggressive behavior,” Eli Ad said “It’s a police department… It’s a military operation. I was in the military. I know what it is. There’s rules. There’s agendas to follow, and I hope you guys choose Maui, and not politics because that’s what the most important thing is.”
Dana Puckett testified against the chief on Wednesday referencing alleged incidents, including comments the chief reportedly made during a command staff meeting in December, in which he was quoted in The Maui News as saying he would “fillet the first one” who was insubordinate.
“This chief can parade as many people as he wants to in front of this commission today, all heaping praises upon him, and it will not change what happened. Regardless of what this commission’s findings are today, it will not change what happened. Someone stated on Aug. 3 that no-one is asking for these chiefs to be fired. Well I am,” she said.
Deborah Vial, a realtor and musician spoke well of the chief, saying he had come out to Nalu’s to support the gay community. “It’s impressive, because it’s a constantly overlooked piece of our community.”
“I think we’re really lucky to have him. I’m sure your guys know, he took a pay cut to come to Maui, and I just feel really inspired to have him here. I don’t think he’s been given a long enough chance to get anything done… I totally understand the concept that he is an outsider, but they’re doing a great job and I just hope that we give them a chance to really get some good done, because I think they’ve got some really good intentions as a family,” said Vial.
Leslee Matthews, an attorney and social worker said, “I just want to be a voice for those–the voices that I wish I had when I was going through my issue of violence in the workplace.”
Her complaint triggered an independent investigation into then-county prosecuting attorney Don Guzman who was removed over allegations of workplace violence in 2020.
“For every person that said they were sorry, I wish just one person would come and had my back and stand in support of me,” said Matthews. “I want to stand in support of the people that are saying that there’s violence in the workplace because I know that it can happen. I’m not speaking to the merits of this current situation, but I will say that we need to believe women, and from what I’m told, (the) majority of the people that are making complaints are women.”
During her experience, she asked for the County of Maui to establish a task force dedicated to addressing violence in the workplace. She asked the county to “hold good on their promise,” saying the group met only twice before discussion dropped to the wayside.
James E. Terry spoke in support of the chief and his administration saying, “Anytime there’s a change in administration or command staff, there’s going to be disgruntled. Two people are going to be in different factions of what they think. And the dog whistle that I continue to hear is morale. If you look at any previous administration, you’re going to find a 5-10% decrease in morale… The changes that the chiefs are making are positive.”
“You cannot vet the progress of something within the first 18 months. You figure within the first year, all the stuff that happened in the previous administrations or things that were left (that) have to (be) addressed initially, then they can start their own program,” said Terry.
Terry said he wasn’t in the meeting where complaints stemmed, but said, “I can attest that the culture–we are a little bit gruff… I’m not discounting what was said, because I wasn’t in the meeting, but how different people communicate, how they recieve the message, that’s a communication issue and that can be worked on.”
Justin Mauliola, a current officer said he wants upper level officers to be held accountable, regardless of rank.
“I myself have been accused of harassment in work place by another employee. I was immediately removed from my section pending investigation. I was also disciplined for a one time work place disagreement,” he said pointing to a general order policy calling for zero tolerance of harassment and violence in the workplace. “The department didn’t wait for seven complaints to remove me. The department didn’t wait for 10 complaints. They removed me from one. If weʻre going to stick to the same policies that we, the officers have to follow, why is it any different for people who have four stars on their shirts?”
“How long are we going to wait to take action-do we wait until somebody gets hurt? Do we wait until people become self destructive? I mean people are leaving. We can wait 18 months if that’s what’s necessary to see positive change; but how much people will be left here?” Mauliola asked.
Calling the current situation a “toxic work environment,” Mauliola encouraged the commission to do something, saying that if nothing is done, it will end up “affecting the community.”
Keisa Liu said the issues that are surfacing are not brand new. She said policing, “is not a system that allows space and opportunity for healing like what is needed after a very stressful work day.”
“The reality is, if we really want to make a change we need to make, we have to stop policing the way we have been doing… What youʻre seeing is a perpetuation of how we police and how we lead, not a change for the better,” said Liu.
“Itʻs up to you guys to really recognize that change is needed and itʻs going to require us to be a little bit more brave, not discounting the real experiences of people, but really to recognize–okay, if this is still happening, this is something that has continued to happen–what do we need to do, what bigger changes do we need to make, other than doing what we always do, which is kick out leadership,” Liu asked.
Marvin Tevaga, an officer with the MPD since 2008, said the issue of morale didn’t start overnight, and differs from section to section, and district to district.
“In January 13 of this year, I resigned from the Maui Police Department. It was the hardest thing to do–to go home and tell my wife and kids that I don’t want to be a cop anymore–that this place is just not a place for me, based on rumors, assumptions, and lies that was being told to me about this new chief,” said Tevaga.
Over the next four days, Tevaga said the chief pursued a meeting with him until finally they sat down for two hours. “Him and the deputy disbanded all the rumors and lies that were being told to me. As soon as I left the office that day, I saw the Chief’s secretary–she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Marvin, please stay… give these guys a chance.’ And I’m glad I did, because two weeks later I had an opportunity that got put in our hands to fight crime and disrupt drug issues on our island.”
“Give them a chance, because in seven months, they’ve done a lot,” said Tevaga.
A testifier who identified herself as Melissa, said she was speaking on her own behalf, and on her own time.
“I need to say–morale is one thing. Morale issues are a separate item. Violence in the workplace is not a morale issue. Harassment is not a morale issue. A hostile work environment is not a morale issue. Cursing at employees should not be a part of police culture. Police culture should be treating employees and the public with respect,” she said.
“Being aggressive towards females should not be a part of police culture. I just wanted to separate these areas of morale versus a hostile work environment, violence in the workplace, harassment, and abuse–they are two separate items. Morale–whatever happened in the past is one thing. Look at the dates of the complaints–these are separate areas, separate items. Please, as a woman in 2022, please address violence against women in the workplace,” she said.
“Here we are in 2022, and there are five female complainants that are facing the same situation,” the testifier said.
Cristy Pelletier, the chief’s wife, also testified on Wednesday, defending her husband and speaking to his character.
“For the last eight months, unfortunately, my family has endured so many ugly complaints, false accusations,” she said, including rumors that resulted in threats against her middle school aged son.
“Now the false accusations that my husband is threatening females (and) violence in the workplace. I would really love to hear their accusations saying what my husband has done as far as violence. If you say ‘F@#$’ (expletive) is a violent word, I understand that. That is not okay… but under terms that he used it by saying, ‘I donʻt want another f@#$ing officer on the wall’ from fallen officers shot in the line of duty, or hurt in the line of duty. Understood. It’s passion. We’ve seen it,” she said.
“Cursing at someone–a woman–and belittling a woman, or a hostile work environment… I donʻt work with you guys, but I sure in heck have lived with this guy for over 18 years, and you can ask any female officer that he has worked with in the past 22 plus years, they would say that John is the least violent person, and the most pro-female officer that they know. I cannot believe these things are being said, this hatred is being spewed, and these people are making accusations to make my husband look like a monster. You should be ashamed of yourself. I am so sad for you that you can look yourself in the mirror every morning, and go about your day, thinking what you are doing is okay,” said Cristy Pelletier.
“Youʻre allowed to feel how you feel. But I tell you what, one thing–my husband is not a monster… I promise you my husband will go through the depths of hell to promote you, to help you, to back you… and I promise you we are not leaving because we are strong and we have strong faith,” she said.
What’s the next steps?
When asked how SHOPO would like to see the situation resolved, Krau said, “All workplace complaints should be investigated thoroughly and fairly. Then, based on the fact and evidence, if it’s determined that any wrongdoing occurred, that employee(s) should be held accountable, no matter their rank. It’s important to the credibility of MPD that no one person or group of people is allowed to operate outside the law or our policies.”
He further explained that SHOPO is not a party in the complaints. “… We believe that after a fair and thorough investigation, if any employee was found to break the law or policies, they should be held accountable just like any other employee,” he said.
The Maui Police Commission went into executive session to discuss the matter at around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. During the height of the meeting, there were at least 63 people tuned in virtually.
It was unclear if the commission was still in executive session this morning, if they forgot to recess the meeting via the app, or if there were technical difficulties. Overnight, it appeared that the meeting host was trying to connect, but at least two media outlets remained on hold monitoring progress into Thursday morning.
The next regular meeting of the Maui Police Commission is scheduled for Sept. 21.