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Honolulu Officer Post Photo on Facebook of Badly Burned Theft Suspect

HONOLULU --

KITV 4 News has learned a Honolulu police officer posted a photo on his Facebook page of a suspected copper thief in his hospital bed, after the suspect was badly burned earlier this month.

The Honolulu Police Department began an internal affairs investigation after KITV 4 News asked questions about the Facebook post on Monday.

Police say a 40-year-old man was seriously burned as he tried to steal copper wire from the New Hope Christian Fellowship facility near Sand Island about 2 a.m. on September 1. His charred baseball cap and shirt remained at the scene, off North Nimitz Highway, along with his head-mounted light.

He was taken to a local hospital where he is being treated for severe burns.

KITV 4 News obtained a picture from the Facebook page of a Honolulu police officer which shows the man burned in the copper theft incident in his hospital bed. His burned skin and various hospital tubes going to and from his body are visible in the photo.

The police officer wrote this caption for the photo: "See when you like steal copper."

At least 15 of the officer's Facebook friends saw the photo and commented on it and the officer responded to their comments at least three times.

“There goes my lunch,” wrote one Facebook friend.

“Karma,” wrote another.

“Did his skin just peel off? It looks like a flap of it hanging on his side,” asked another Facebook friend of the officer.

“I hope he at least had medical insurance as I’d be pissed if I had to pay for that too,” wrote another.

HPD released a three-sentence statement, saying: "The department is concerned and is looking into this matter. We expect our officers to act professionally and abide by departmental policies. The department is currently finalizing a social media policy.”

An HPD spokeswoman said the department has been working to compile a social media policy since early this year, but there is no policy in place yet.

The accused officer is assigned to the patrol division in district five, which covers Kalihi, the district where the copper theft case was reported. He's been with the police department for 12 years, a police spokeswoman said.

It's unclear if the officer snapped the photo himself or someone else took it. Police officers routinely are sent to hospitals to check on the condition of suspects in criminal cases or crime victims.

Posting a photo of a hospital patient on the internet without authorization most likely violates federal law. Known as HIPAA (and pronounced "hippa"), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountablity act, passed in 1996, protects the privacy of medical patients.

Straub Clinic and Hospital has the only burn unit on Oahu. A Straub spokeswoman would not confirm if the copper theft suspect is a patient there because of those medical privacy rules.

KITV 4 News was unable to reach the police officer accused in this case for comment.

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