In Our Voices for Thursday — January 19, 2006

• Damage control needed at Kaua’i Police Department


Damage control needed at Kaua’i Police Department

The Kaua’i Police Department is in turmoil. Currently the department faces a federal whistleblower case brought on by a vice officer, a rumored FBI investigation, and a lawsuit by an ‘Oma’o couple who claim that officers burst into their home, violating their civil rights while searching for marijuana eventually found in a nearby house.

Assistant Chief Clayton Arinaga was suspended for 30 days in the middle of November, allegedly for an incident several years earlier. It is widely speculated that he was suspended by KPD Chief K.C. Lum for blowing the whistle on what he saw as violations of rules, procedures and laws. Three vice officers went to Maui for a training seminar in October, but apparently never attended the seminar, claiming they were sick, Arinaga reported. The reason given for Arinaga’s suspension at the time was an investigation of the officer based on a 5-year-old incident where a gun was discharged during a suspected attempted suicide. Arinaga was reinstated in late December after legal threats were made claiming there may be a federal or state Whistleblowers’ Protection Act violation over his suspension.

Earlier this month, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent apparently confirmed to a Honolulu television reporter that an investigation of the KPD was ongoing.

A source close to the investigation has told The Garden Island charges may come over the Maui vice trip because it involved federal dollars, but that it was the details of the officer Darla Abbatiello case that attracted the attention of the feds.

Abbatiello, a former vice officer, has filed a federal lawsuit against the County of Kaua’i, claiming harassment from events that occurred between her and KPD Sgt. Irvil Kapua. After Abbatiello reported to her superiors that a suspected drug dealer told her that Kapua was protecting another drug dealer in early 2004, she was subjected to harassment both from the members of the department and Kapua, she claims. According to court documents in the case, she was threatened with death, verbally abused, and taunted.

She was transferred to the Waimea substation, which meant a demotion, while Kapua remained in Lihu’e. Both officers are still on duty.

It is hard to understand why Arinaga would be put on administrative suspension for a 5-year-old incident, but two officers remain on duty embroiled in active investigations and federal lawsuits. According to court documents, Kapua is incited to anger at the sight of Abbatiello.

On Jan. 27, there is a hearing scheduled in the case to find out if former police Chief George Freitas can be added as a defendant, as Lum came on the scene as chief right after most of the incidents reported in the lawsuit occurred.

Perhaps, if the buck is passed to Freitas, some of the heat will be off Lum.

Lum has come under fire for mismanaging the department, and recently sought permission to seek outside counsel during a meeting of the Kaua’i Police Commission. Because the matter was discussed in executive session, the reason he was seeking outside counsel is not known to the public.

Meanwhile, the community’s distrust continues to rise. The authority of the department is being se-verely undermined. Many public officials claim they cannot comment on these matters, as they involve personnel issues. But if someone at the county or the KPD does not take a leadership role and shed some light on some or all of the allegations, rumor and fact swirling around the damage is going to be much more longterm.

There needs to be some damage control, and soon.

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