Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Female officer’s
attorneys say
testimony grounds
for mistrial

By Debra Barayuga
and Alisa Lavelle


Attorneys for a female Maui police officer who lost a sexual harassment and discrimination suit against Maui County are expected to ask for a mistrial.

A federal court jury yesterday delivered a unanimous judgment in favor of Maui County.

"She is very disappointed," said Mike Nauyokas, one of Burke's attorneys.

Testimony about Burke's alleged sexual behavior was a violation of the rules of evidence and swayed the jury's verdict, Nauyokas said. "Sexual behavior was not relevant to the case."

Burke, an officer since 1991, had sued Maui County claiming she had been retaliated against after she collapsed from stress in April 1997 and attributed it to sexual and racial harassment.

Richard Rand, an attorney hired to represent Maui County, said he didn't think the testimony on Burke's sexual behavior had any effect on the trial.

Jurors reached a "correct" verdict after reviewing the evidence presented, he said. "We hope Ms. Burke can put this behind her and Maui County (can) move forward."

Although the jury said Burke was not racially or sexually harassed, the jury noted the police department acted without discrimination to her reports of unlawful practices by fellow officers.

"This exonerates the MPD (Maui Police Department)," Rand said. "This proves that not all allegations are true."

Burke had claimed that fellow officers called her obscene and racial names, including "haole," and "iced" her out by failing to respond to her calls for backup.

She also testified that other officers "clicked" her when she requested assistance over the radio. "Clicking" made it impossible for the radio dispatcher to hear her urgent calls for backup.

Burke also accused now retired Deputy Police Chief Lanny Tihada of making sexual advances and raping her on at least four occasions. She said she didn't report the incidents because she knew it could end her career and because he was her commander and a very powerful man. She also testified he said that no one would have believed her if she did report it.

Tihada took the stand and admitted to having sex with Burke on two occasions, but that the sex was consensual.

Rand had argued that Burke was only seeking relief from financial hardship and the actions of her fellow officers were not consistent with being anti-female or anti-Caucasian.

He cited testimony in which fellow officers had donated their sick leave to Burke through a leave-sharing program after she was diagnosed with a blood disorder. Her commanders also accommodated Burke, a single parent, by creating a position for her at the Wailuku Station so that she didn't have to commute to Lahaina. She was also put in charge of the evidence room, a light duty assignment which allowed her to work day shifts only and no weekends, leaving other patrol officers to pick up the slack.

Burke is the fourth female police officer or employee who has filed a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint against Maui County in the past four years.

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