Kaua‘i County has approved a $325,000 settlement for a former Kaua‘i Police Department secretary who claimed former police chief George Freitas fired her for doing her job and for having written a letter to the editor of a magazine.
A 2002 article in the magazine focused on the challenges of the incoming chief. Jacqueline Tokashiki responded to that article with a letter defending the department, its officers, personnel and former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka.
Freitas, represented by John Komeiji, a Honolulu attorney who also represented the county in the negotiations before the agreement was reached, said yesterday he never fired her, and “hasn’t heard anything about a settlement being reached nor any details of it.”
“I haven’t been involved in the negotiations, and have not been notified of any settlement,” said Freitas, who retired in 2003. “Other than what the press has told me, I am not aware of a settlement.”
The Garden Island however, received a copy of an insurance check for $325,000 made out to the plaintiff, Jacquelyn Tokashiki, and Clayton Ikei, a Honolulu attorney who represented her.
The settlement ends five years of litigation stemming from Tokashiki’s termination by Freitas in May 2002. She claims it was retaliation for a police commission’s investigation into Freitas’ conduct with two subordinate officers.
Ikei also said the lawsuits filed in 5th Circuit Court and U.S. District Court stemmed from her having written the letter to the editor in January 2002 in response to the article about Freitas being under siege since becoming chief.
“It was never my intention to resolve this, and I was left with no choice but to file these lawsuits,” Tokashiki said in a statement. “Although I know that my life will never be the same, I feel vindicated even though the financial amount does not cover the losses incurred.”
Tokashiki also said she is accepting the settlement “because it is proof to me and gives a message to government employees and employers that it is wrong to violate anyone’s right given by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the state of Hawai‘i.”
Tokashiki said her five-year ordeal has nearly sapped the life from her, and all she wants now is to return to a life that is as normal as possible.
“I would like to publicly thank all of the persons who have been involved in this process — my family, friends, doctors, attorneys, the courts and the hundreds of people who signed the petition for my reinstatement,” she wrote. “I am deeply grateful for all of their efforts, prayers and support over all these years.”
Tokashiki said she has lingering stress, has been disabled and receives workman’s compensation.
Tokashiki was employed from 1980 until 2002 as the secretary to the police chief and the Kaua‘i Police Commission.
The impetus for the lawsuits came in 2001, when the police commission fielded complaints about abusive conduct against two officers.
The commission subsequently suspended Freitas for five months pending an investigation of the complaints.
But Freitas called a news conference as well, and criticized the commission for not providing him with detailed information on the complaints and the names of complaining officers and not allowing him the proper forum to respond to the complaints.
Freitas said the commission had no authority to put him on leave.
Tokashiki, in her role as secretary to the chief and the commission, said she “just did her job” in helping the commission in its investigation of Freitas.
Freitas returned to work in 2002 after the investigation, and after receiving two letters of reprimand.
In a news release, Ikei said Freitas immediately reassigned Tokashiki to another KPD unit.
On “Secretary’s Day” in April 2002, he wrote a letter in which he stated he was going to fire her, Ikei said.
“I didn’t fire her,” Freitas said, adding that he only sent a letter “of my intent to terminate,” and nothing more.
Ikei has a different understanding.
“She was terminated,” Ikei said. “She secured legal counsel, Lorna Nishimitsu (a Kaua‘i attorney), who secured a temporary restraining order in 2002 against the termination notice.”
Freitas said it seemed the termination issue compelled the filing of the lawsuits.
“It was my understanding I was being sued because she said I fired her,” he said. “And I never fired her.”
Tokashiki filed a lawsuit in 5th Circuit Court under the Hawaii state Whistleblower Protection Act and the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court claiming Freitas’ reference to her letter to the editor of the magazine violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
The magazine article contained complaints Freitas had about his suspension and accusations he interfered with a police investigation of an officer accused of sexual relationships with a minor.
Freitas dismissed the articles’ charges outright.
In the January 2002 letter, Tokashiki defended KPD officers, former police chief Calvin Fujita, Kusaka and the commission.
Fifth Circuit Judge George Masuoka initially dismissed the state-level case, saying there was no “claim” to her charges.
On appeal though, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that Tokashiki’s actions were protected by the state whistleblower law and sent the case back to the 5th Circuit Court for trial.
The case was scheduled to go to trial this September, Ikei said.
In April 2006, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled her letter was “protected speech” and sent the case back for trial in Honolulu, Ikei said.
The trial was scheduled to begin April 24 of this year.
With encouragement of the federal court, attorneys for Tokashiki and Freitas met two weeks go and reached a settlement, Ikei said.
In the federal case, Freitas faced personal liability, but “pursuant to the condition of the agreement, only Kaua‘i County would pay the settlement,” Ikei said.
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org.