Council funds defense against KPD whistleblower

LIHU’E — Kaua’i County Council members recently approved funding of up to $100,000 to hire outside attorneys to represent certain county officials in a whistle-blower-related lawsuit a Kaua’i Police Department officer filed against several employees of Kaua’i County.

In a federal lawsuit, Darla Abbatiello, a former officer with the KPD’s vice division who is still employed by KPD, alleged KPD Sgt. Irvil Kapua and other officers harassed her after she reported to superiors that drug dealers told her that they had paid Kapua $6,000 for protection against law-enforcement investigations.

Abbatiello also claimed she was threatened with death, and was verbally abused and taunted.

Council members, who met during a regular council meeting at the historic County Building, approved the request for funding from County Attorney Lani Nakazawa. The funds would come from a special counsel account of the county.

The action by the council members came after government watchdog Richard Stauber lodged the only protest against it.

Stauber said some information that was disclosed at a “last meeting” should not have been disclosed, “because it will ruin the reputations of at least two police officers.”

“It shouldn’t have happened, an officer takes information and gives it to drug dealer,” said Stauber.

Stauber went on to say that “a commander (or a superior officer with KPD) is going to reconfirm the information, which is being ignored.”

Stauber said it is his belief the filing of the lawsuit, forcing county leaders to spend large sums of money on legal counsel to resolve it, might not have been necessary.

“If the county had taken care of the matter in 1999, the matter didn’t have to come up in 2004,” when the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, said Stauber.

If the problems had been worked out earlier, county leaders would not have to spend up to $100,000 to litigate the case today, he added.

Some of Stauber’s comments made little or no sense to Councilman Jay Furfaro, who has followed the issue.

“I could not follow the discussion (offered by Stauber),” Furfaro said on the floor as he looked at Council Chairman Kaipo Asing. “And I am not sure what the reference was.”

Asing responded by saying, “All the information we have provided is public information.”

Related to the accusations in the lawsuit, Abbatiello said she reported to her superiors that a suspected drug dealer told her that Kapua was protecting another drug dealer in 2004.

After doing so, Abbatiello said she was harassed by Kapua and other police officers.

She also contended in the lawsuit that she was threatened with death, was verbally abused, and was taunted.

She claimed that she informed superiors about her fears of being around Kapua, and had asked them to have Kapua stay away from her.

Her superiors, she alleged, issued no such orders to Kapua.

Named in the lawsuit as defendants are Kaua’i County; Kaua’i Police Chief K.C. Lum; Wilfred Ihu, a former acting KPD chief who has retired; Gordon Isoda, who was the acting assistant chief of KPD’s Intelligence Services Bureau; Dean Pigao, a lieutenant who is also now retired; and Kapua.

In other matters before members of the council, the legislators approved another request from Nakazawa to use up to another $100,000 from the same county special counsel account to continue the employment of two attorneys to hear and prosecute matters before the Kaua’i Board of Ethics.

According to county documents, the additional funds are needed because the number of cases to be prosecuted increased from three to four.

In two hearings held so far, the subjects of the hearings contested the charges, which were not made public, thus lengthening the hearings and increasing costs.

Contacted by telephone Thursday, Michael Fernandez, who was recently elected as the chairman of that board, said he could not comment on the matters because they were discussed during an executive session of the body.

Personnel matters and legal matters are usually discussed during portions of government meetings that by state law can be closed to members of the public.

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