Fire chief files police report alleging unauthorized disclosure of confidential records

Following up on an Always Investigating report, the chief of the Honolulu Fire Department has asked police to root out the source of information in a story that outlined firefighter concerns about asbestos and lack of resources at the scene of the Marco Polo fire.

Chief Manuel Neves filed a report suspecting one of his own leaked what he calls confidential government records.

Neves and the firefighters union have not seen eye to eye since Neves took the job as chief.

The police report filing has inflamed tensions.

“Nothing that I saw looked anything close to a confidential nature,” said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, who reviewed the document Wednesday with Always Investigating. He said it’s “something if the public wanted, they could request and get that kind of information.

“This is more of an intimidation tactic,” Lee added. “That would be my call on this, trying to keep our firefighters quiet and not talking about issues or problems that happened.”

Under state law, government records are open to the public, but sensitive portions can be withheld. It can be a misdemeanor for a government worker to share confidential parts.
The media may report on any information received from a source.

If a government worker ends up prosecuted in this case, it would be unprecedented. Honolulu prosecutors have never had a case under this statute.

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Capt. David Jenkins, HFD’s public information officer, said:

“The unauthorized release of the Honolulu Fire Department’s (HFD) documents regarding the Marco Polo condominium and the fire which occurred there on July 14, 2017 has been referred to the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) for investigation. The HFD will continue to cooperate with the HPD in its investigation. Pending the completion of the investigation, the HFD has no further comment on this issue.”

Meanwhile, new details have emerged over asbestos concerns at the building.

Always Investigating first reported that asbestos was confirmed on the fire-damaged 26th, 27th, and 28th floors.

We followed up to ask if surrounding areas and neighboring properties have been affected.

According to a preliminary report, an air quality check did not find asbestos in the air on the building’s other floors, and that floors 26 through 28 should remain isolated and controlled until cleared by an asbestos consultant.

The report warns debris that may contain asbestos has been tracked around the property and can spread through the elevator shafts. It also said it can spread when wet waste dries and becomes airborne.

The report recommends that it be cleaned up properly and quickly.

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