Kaua’i’s police chief filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday against the mayor, a police commissioner, the county council and the county alleging discrimination and conspiracy.
Police Chief K.C. Lum named Mayor Bryan Baptiste, Police Commissioner Leon Gonsalves and the Kaua’i County Council in his lawsuit that was filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. The suit accuses them of illegal race, national origin, and reprisal discrimination, and for engaging in a conspiracy to deprive Lum of his civil rights.
Lum seeks a jury trial and injunctions to stop the alleged illegal retaliatory actions, along with compensatory damages of $100,000 against Gonsalves, and $500,000 against the mayor, the council and the county.
Lum also seeks punitive damages of $100,000 against Gonsalves, and $500,000 against the mayor, the council and the county.
Lum’s attorney Clayton Ikei in a press release said that Lum was subjected to a campaign of illegal discrimination, harassment and denigration from an “entrenched guard” that is fighting Lum’s reform measures in the police department.
Ikei said that Lum’s reputation was damaged despite Lum’s record of reducing crime, especially in fighting illegal drug trafficking. Ikei also said that Lum’s efforts were a threat to the entrenched guard in the police department and the county.
“Those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo against the best interests of Kaua’i’s citizens fought back with questionable tactics in violation of federal law,” said Ikei.
The alleged illegal activities began before Lum was promoted to police chief in October 2004. In an act that received nationwide attention, Gonsalves referred to Lum in an e-mail as “Hop Sing,” and wrote that he would “throw up” if he attended the chief’s swearing-in ceremony.
Gonsalves declined to comment about the federal lawsuit.
Kaui Tanaka from the mayor’s office said county officials could not comment on the lawsuit because the county has not been officially served.
Lum was appointed as interim chief in May 2004, then was sworn in as chief in October.
In a telephone interview, Lum said he filed a Hawai’i Civil Rights Commission complaint in April 2005 because Gonsalves called him “Hop Sing.”
Lum also said that since October 2004, members of the council solicited negative comments from disgruntled KPD employees and used them to discredit, belittle and embarrass him in efforts to get him out of office, to the point where last week the mayor called for his removal from office.
Lum pointed out that the actions of the council, and the fact that he filed the Hawai’i Civil Rights complaint, gave rise to a hostile work environment for him as chief of police.
The chief said drug arrests and the decrease in the crime rate show that he is qualified to be police chief, despite the mayor calling for his removal from office.
He pointed out that, from May 2004 to April 2005, his first full year as interim chief and as chief of police, the number of drug arrests went up to 216, more than double from 94 arrests for the previous year.
“That indicates the enforcement effort to cut the available supply of illegal drugs on Kaua’i,” said Lum.
In 2005, the crime rate had decreased 26 percent as compared to the year before, said the chief.
Lum said that for the past 16 months he has worked to reform the police department and increase public safety. However, he said that an entrenched old guard within the county has been undermining his efforts.
“They are entrenched, and they continue with the support of some in positions of power within the county. I am committed to reform the department, to end ‘business as usual,’ and enforce the laws no matter where the chips might fall, because that is what the people of Kaua’i expect and deserve,” said Lum.
According to the lawsuit, Lum claims that Gonsalves engaged in a concerted effort to harass and embarrass him at police commission meetings, has sought to impose sanctions on him as police chief, and has disclosed information relating to confidential police investigations at police commission meetings.
The lawsuit also shows that the council went into a closed session in Jan. 20, 2005, to talk about investigating the police department.
The state Office of Information Practices has ruled the minutes of that executive session have to be disclosed under the state’s Sunshine Law. However, the county has disputed the OIP’s ruling.
Raymond Chuan of Hanalei said he’ll be keeping an eye on Lum’s federal lawsuit. He, too, is interested in the council’s Jan. 20, 2005, minutes.
In December, he filed a lawsuit against the county to disclose the minutes.
“I’ll be on the side watching this,” he said, adding that he supports the police department under Lum’s leadership.
Former chairman of the police commission, Stanton Pa, said that Lum has been trying to reform the department from day one.
“The commission selected Lum as chief of police, and he was highly qualified of all the candidates for the job. I know for a fact that many police officers support the police chief 100 percent,” said Pa.
The five-member police commission hires and fires the police chief. The police commissioners are appointed by the mayor with the approval of the county council.
At the next police commission meeting on Feb. 24, Baptiste’s letter asking for the removal of Lum will be considered by that body.
- Cynthia Kaneshiro, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 256) or firstname.lastname@example.org