CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kauai Police Chief K.C. Lum, left, announced yesterday he was filing a civil rights lawsuit over his fight with Kauai officials. With him were Kauai residents Ray Chuang and Stanton Pa.
Kauai's Lum files $1.2M suit
The embattled police chief alleges violation of his civil rights
After being the subject of a recent lawsuit and requests for his resignation, Kauai Police Chief K.C. Lum fought back yesterday by suing some of his detractors for $1.2 million.
Lum held a press conference yesterday to announce that his lawyer, Clayton Ikei, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Kauai county, the County Council, Mayor Bryan Baptiste and a police commissioner, Leon Gonsalves Sr.
Lum acknowledged the lawsuit could make it more difficult to fire him, which is scheduled for a vote at this month's Kauai Police Commission meeting, but he said the suit is about discrimination and retaliation as an American of Chinese descent.
The complaint alleges that an e-mail sent by Gonsalves in 2004 referred to Lum with an ethnic slur, and after requesting Gonsalves' resignation, Lum was subject to discrimination, reprisals, harassment and a "civil conspiracy to deprive him of his civil rights."
Gonsalves said yesterday that he would "rather not comment until I know more about it."
Kaui Tanaka, a spokeswoman for Baptiste, said that the mayor had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment.
Lum said that the conspiracy involves numerous unidentified officers and was caused by his insistence on change and "to enforce the law no matter where the chips fall."
Officers who are part of the "entrenched guard" were unhappy with Lum's administrative changes and provided information to county councilmembers to force him out of his job, the lawsuit alleges.
"The Kauai County Council has solicited negative comments from disgruntled employees from within the Kauai Police Department and used them to discredit, belittle and embarrass me in the media and the televised County Council meetings," Lum said.
The Council has also authorized an investigative committee to discuss the commission's selection of the chief and to look into the department and its leadership.
Councilman Mel Rapozo, a former police officer, has openly stated at Council meetings that Lum should not be chief.
Gonsalves, also a former KPD officer, has also requested that the Police Commission dismiss Lum for his role in the $330,000 budget overrun at KPD in the last fiscal year.
And, just last week, Baptiste requested the commission remove Lum after the police union asked for it.
The councilmembers, Baptiste and Gonsalves have also cited low morale, poor communication, lack of leadership, an increase in union grievances and a multitude of lawsuits as reasons to get rid of Lum.
Lum said that it is all part of the conspiracy that started when he reacted to Gonsalves' e-mail. The problems started in October 2004, even before Lum was made the permanent chief after a six-month period of being the interim top police officer.
The night before Lum was to be sworn in, Gonsalves sent an e-mail to a friend in the Kauai prosecutor's office, saying, "Tomorrow is the swearing-in for Hop Sing and Little Joe. I wouldn't be there, Thank (God), I think I might throw up."
"Hop Sing" was a character on the long-running television show "Bonanza." The character is regarded by many of Chinese descent as a derogatory ethnic stereotype.
"Little Joe" was also a character on "Bonanza." The comment refers to KPD Deputy Chief Ron Venneman.
The e-mail, which also contained a poem and a picture of a little girl in prayer, was later forwarded and widely distributed.
After complaints from members of the Chinese community, Baptiste requested Gonsalves' resignation. Gonsalves refused, and the County Council, which had the authority to remove him, refused to do so.
They cited his apology, Gonsalves' work as islandwide chairman of the Pop Warner football league and the fact that Gonsalves had called Lum the nickname for 20 years as reasons to keep him on.
The seven-member body decided to investigate KPD and the chief instead, Lum's lawyers claim.
Lum's suit asks for the court for an injunction to stop any retaliatory actions by the defendants and a total of $1.2 million in damages from the defendants.
It is not only about the e-mail, though, Ikei said. "The facts speak clearly: Chief Lum and the reforms he undertook were successful, but they were a threat to the entrenched guard in the Police Department and in the county," Ikei said. "Those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo ... fought back with questionable tactics in violations of federal law."