Kauai police, council
duke it out in lawsuits

LIHUE » A battle between Kauai County and the Police Department has been raging in recent months, with lawsuits and ethics complaints dotting the island's political landscape.


K.C. Lum: He took offense to a councilman referring to him as "Hop Sing"

The skirmishing is likely to flare up in court, as two lawsuits and a complaint with the state Civil Rights Commission remain pending.

According to the County Council, it all started in January, when the Council decided to investigate the Kauai Police Department.

County Council Chairman Bill "Kaipo" Asing last week gave two main reasons for the investigation: 25 lawsuits against the Kauai Police Department in the past five years that have cost the county $1.3 million for outside counsel; and the selection of the police chief last year which, Asing said, violated the county charter and state Sunshine Law.

The choice of Police Chief K.C. Lum, which rankled a few members of the council and some high-ranking members of the department, came after a nearly yearlong process of interviews, background checks and other procedures. Some view Lum as an outsider who was born in Oklahoma although he has served 20-plus years on the Police Department.

Some of those interviews, Asing said, violated the charter by including a members of the public in the selection process, which is not specifically allowed by the charter.

The selection of Lum, who served as the interim police chief for six months prior to the commission's decision, also led to his own civil rights complaint against the county.

The night before his swearing-in ceremony as permanent chief, an e-mail sent by Police Commissioner Leon Gonsalves Sr. called Lum "Hop Sing," a nickname Lum said he found offensive. Three months after the e-mail was made public, Lum filed the complaint when Gonsalves was not removed from the commission despite the Kauai mayor's request for the Council to do so.

Employees at the state Civil Rights Commission said they could not comment on any possible investigations, but both Lum and the Council discussed the complaint during an April meeting held to discuss the possible removal of Gonsalves from the volunteer board.

At that meeting, the Council voted to keep him on. They cited his apology to Lum, his expectation that the e-mail would remain private and his extensive public service as reasons to keep him on. They also said the nickname "Hop Sing" was minor, used for years within the department, and did not warrant his dismissal from the board.

Meanwhile, the Council's decision to investigate the commission's process and the Police Department in general has led to other trouble, including violations of the state Sunshine Law.

In a meeting in January, the Council held a meeting in executive session to discuss the investigation. But, according to the state Office of Information Practices, which reviewed the minutes of the meeting, the investigation was never discussed.

The state OIP has ordered the minutes to be made public, and the county's refusal to do so has led to the two lawsuits -- one by the county against the OIP to keep the records private, citing privacy concerns, and another by Police Commission Chairman Michael Ching to get a copy of the minutes.

During a meeting last week, Councilmember Jay Furfaro asked the county attorney to look into whether Ching should step down until his lawsuit is completed.

Ching was not at the meeting. But when told of Furfaro's comment, Ching replied: "If you're Chinese, this is not really a good place to live. They don't like Chinese here."

At the same meeting, the Council allocated $100,000 to fight the lawsuits, prompting a heated argument with members of the public trying to outshout Council members.

Andy Parks, a frequent critic of the Council, calling the seven-member panel "a bunch of criminals" for their "criminal conspiracy" to violate the Sunshine law by ignoring the OIP's demand to release the minutes.

Council members, who were upset by Parks' remarks, said they will fight to keep the minutes of that session private, no matter what the cost.

"I will go to jail before I release information that would intentionally hurt a member of the community," said Councilmember Mel Rapozo, himself a former police officer. "If the minutes are released, there is an individual who will be hurt."

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