County paid $100,000 to settle police dispatcher’s claim

The County of Kauai has agreed to pay more than $100,000 in a worker’s compensation settlement to a former police dispatcher who accused the police department and one of its lieutenants of forcing her to file a sexual harassment claim.

The release of details about the settlement come a year after the Kauai County Council approved it last June in a session closed to the public, and about two weeks after the officer in question, Lt. Alvin Seto, filed suit against the county for $750,000 in damages plus a demand that he get his old job back.

Details on county settlements normally become public knowledge as soon as they are signed and approved.

A representative from the County Attorney’s office said this week that they kept no record of the dates the settlement was approved or paid. According to Kauai County Council meeting agendas for June 13 and June 26, 2002, the council met in executive session “to recommend approve (sic) a worker’s compensation settlement involving a county employee.”

The settlement included $86,000 plus $11,500 for psychological damages. A lump sum payment was made with a later agreement of $3,000 for unspecified medical bills, the County Attorney’s office said.

The dispatcher filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission Jan. 3, 2002 that accused Seto of coercing her into filing a harassment complaint against fellow dispatcher Nelson Gabriel, in order for the complaint to be used against Gabriel at trial. Gabriel was accused of molesting his stepdaughter, and the girl’s mother was to testify against her. Seto, the lead investigator in the case, and allegedly planned to use the sexual harassment complaint to persuade Mrs. Seto to testify differently.

Freitas refused access to the confidential complaint on advice from the County Attorney’s office, and Gabriel was acquitted, sparking Seto to file a complaint with the Kauai Police Commission against Freitas for hindering Gabriel’s prosecution. The commission suspended Freitas with pay for five months during the investigation.

Meanwhile, Freitas sued the county in U.S. District Court, contending that he couldn’t receive a fair hearing while the commission investigated Seto’s claims against him. Freitas’ case was dismissed because he was reinstated without disciplinary procedures save two written reprimands in his personnel file. In that case, the police commission was represented by the county attorney’s office while Freitas retained Oahu attorney Margery Bronster.

Earlier this year, the police commission unsuccessfully petitioned for funds in fiscal year 2003-04 to hire a special investigator to work on claims made against officers in the department.

Whether the dispatcher filed an untrue EEOC claim, Gabriel, still a KPD officer, was convicted of one count of misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to a term of probation. Seto retired May 17, 2002 and is working in security at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

On May 27 Seto filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against Freitas, and the County of Kauai, alleging the same charge of hindering prosecution in the Gabriel case. The County Attorney’s office represents Freitas, while Seto is being represented by attorney Calvin Ikei. He is seeking $600,000 from Freitas; and $150,000 from the County of Kauai.

Seto claims in the suit that Freitas encouraged two county employees to file claims against him; tape-recorded an interrogation; attempted to initiate a criminal charge against him; and encouraged lower-ranking officers to report any possible breach of KPD’s standards of conduct. He further states that Freitas created a hostile work environment that caused among other things, “severe emotional distress, pain, suffering, [and] embarrassment,” which forced him to resign.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at mailto:kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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