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In the end, only 3 positive cases at police station

COVID-19 testing of officers winds down

COVID-19 testing at the Wailuku Police Station closed down last week with no new cases beyond the three initial ones, said Deputy Chief Dean Rickard on Wednesday afternoon. 

“We kind of came out unscathed at this point in time,” Rickard said during the online Maui Police Commission meeting.

After the first positive case report Aug. 27, the number of presumptive positive cases grew to 18 following antigen or rapid testing. Later, PCR confirming tests all came back negative. Because of the false positives with antigen testing, the department turned to PCR tests for subsequent testing, Rickard said.

He said all three confirmed COVID-19 positive employees have completed their quarantines and have returned to work. The department did not specify whether the positive cases involved police officers or civilian workers.

Following protocols in the wake of a positive test, the department tested 25 employees who had contact with the infected person the same day it was notified and locked down the affected unit, Rickard said.

Tests were performed on eight days for sworn and civilian workers beginning Aug. 27, Rickard said. The last tests were administered Friday, with all 12 tests coming back negative.

Rickard said police will continue to monitor the situation. While the testing has stopped, it can be resumed as needed.

The department continues to have its facilities commercially sanitized, along with limiting face-to-face contact if possible, social distancing and encouraging sworn officers and civilians to take advantage of mass COVID-19 testing if they have concerns or show symptoms.

“We want to assure you, we are doing everything possible to minimize the spread of this infection,” Rickard told commissioners. 

In other matters discussed at the meeting, Rickard addressed the death of Julian Heyward III on Aug. 10 in Haiku that has garnered a lot of attention on social media. Heyward, 67, a Black man, was reportedly found hanged on his Haiku porch, according to social media posts by his son.

Preliminary findings show the cause of death as a suicide with police awaiting forensic analysis of both physical and digital evidence recovered at the scene, Rickard said. The case remains active and police are in touch with Heyward’s family to address any concerns that they have.

Rickard said what is out on social media often is negative and false. 

“That’s something we cannot control,” Rickard said. “Those statements can be traced back to the decedent’s son on many of those platforms.” 

Also at the meeting, Rickard said mandatory online courses for all personnel on police officer wellness, mental health awareness and suicide prevention for law enforcement officers should be completed this month.

He said some officers are still dealing with the deaths of two Maui County law enforcement personnel recently. He did not detail the circumstances, but Maui police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported the death of ATF Special Agent John Bost III on July 28. A news release said an initial investigation revealed that Bost died from a wound received from “the accidental discharge of a rifle” at the Kihei Police Station.

Maui police also reported the death of an officer on Aug. 5 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Other factors that could be taking a toll on the mental health of police officers include the COVID-19 pandemic, recent anti-police sentiment driven by protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police and other issues.

“(It) can take a toll on our officers,” he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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