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New DLNR chief suddenly forced out

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HONOLULU -

Just six months on the job, the new Chief of Hawaii's DLNR enforcement division is suddenly forced out.  After gushing praise for conservation officer Thomas Friel at his hiring, the state has quickly changed its tune.  

Friel was tasked with leading Hawaii's Division of Conservation and enforcement Resources, known as DOCARE, at the end of December. But it didn't take long before the longtime conservation law enforcement officer stirred up controversy. 

During a January meeting before the legislation, he requested funds for more semi-automatic weapons for agents, but instead raised questions about racial profiling.

"I would say that 70 percent of the commercial fishermen on these boats around Hawaii are from the Philippines and Indonesia, which are highly populated Muslim populations. And as a result, most federal agencies within the state are looking at them through a magnifying glass," said Friel.
 
"That struck me as unconstitutional. So I asked if they are profiling on religion and race and he said, 'No, they are just looking at them'. That goes against everything a democratic society stands for. We can't have leaders saying those things publicly, much less thinking them. We need people who are impartial," said Rep. Matt LoPresti.

Guns could also be behind a personnel clash in the DOCARE department. Missing DLNR hand guns, along with misappropriated federal funds and equipment thefts are some of the more than 12 internal investigation reportedly started by Friel.

"The chief is initiating changes, looking to professionalize the department and make it more accountability as well as raise morale. These investigations may have stepped on some people's toes," said Sen. Will Espero.

A similar fact was noted by the DLNR Director Suzanne Case in a letter to Friel detailing why his employment was ending.
It stated, "you have not made a willing effort to foster a positive working relationship with your leadership team, due in part to a perceived lack of trust."

Friel has some support within his own division. More than 16 DOCARE employees, roughly 15 percent of the division, sent Espero a letter to let him know they support the chief.

"Many of these employees told me that he was the best and most qualified individual who has been in that position in a long time.
Friel comes with almost 30 years of experience with the federal government," stated Espero.

Right now, the real reason behind the sudden termination may seem murky, but Espero said one thing is clear, "I had a conversation with the chief and I know he would like to retain his position."

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