Saturday, December 13, 2008
KPD Blue Chapter 19: A Stampede to the Courthouse- Part IV: Darla Abbatiello versus KPD
By Anthony Sommer
Chapter 19: A Stampede to the Courthouse- Part IV: Darla Abbatiello versus KPD
On Sept. 8, 2004, Officer Darla Abbatiello filed a lawsuit in federal court in Honolulu claiming her civil rights and her protection under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act were violated when she was punished for reporting a KPD sergeant whom she turned in for selling protection to a drug dealer.
Abbatiello carries with her a ton of credibility. In 1999, she was named “Police Officer of the Year” for all of Hawaii. She also is one of the best-liked police officers on Kauai.
In the old Kauai County Courthouse people scheduled to appear in court (including KPD officers) used to wait in a huge foyer lined with wooden chairs. It was not unusual to see Abbatiello carrying around one or more babies.
Routinely, she would go up to mothers with children, who had been trapped in the waiting area for hours, and offer to watch their children while they went outside for a smoke. Her kindness paid off in lots of tips over the years.
And, like so many others in this tale, Abbatiello had a tie to the Lap Dancing Incident in 1995. According to testimony at Officer Randy Machado’s criminal trial, Machado’s comments to Abbatiello were so sexist and disgusting, one of the prostitutes told him to knock it off.
She was on duty in Waimea and was brought in to search the women dancers arrested that night.
Abbatiello was one of only five women officers on the KPD and the first ever to be assigned to the Vice Squad. Given the troubled history of the Vice Squad, her assignment was a highly mixed blessing.
In her lawsuit, Abbatiello said that in December 2003 she obtained a warrant to search the home of the girlfriend of a major drug supplier who had been arrested the previous June with two pounds of crystal methamphetamine in his possession.
According to the lawsuit, Sgt. Irvil Kapua, who was not a member of the vice unit, went to Abbatiello’s commanding officer and told him Abbatiello should not be investigating the case.
Vice warrants are confidential and Kapua should not have known about the investigation, the lawsuit contends. The lawsuit also alleges that Kapua registered the suspect as a confidential informant in violation of department policy.
When Abbatiello told Kapua her real target was the woman’s boyfriend who had been arrested in June, Kapua allegedly told Abbatiello the man was “nothing” and “small time.”
The woman suspect did no work as an informant and on Dec. 26, Abbatiello arrested her.
After the arrest, the woman told Abbatiello that her boyfriend had paid Kapua $6,000 to protect both of them, according to the lawsuit.
Abbatiello reported the suspect’s statement to her supervisor and an investigation was opened but allegedly never pursued.
As of the filing of her lawsuit almost a year later, “no meaningful action has been taken in either the criminal or internal investigations,” her lawsuit stated.
After Abbatiello filed her complaint against Kapua, he repeatedly threatened her both in the police station and in public places, her lawsuit contends.
Abbatiello requested a temporary transfer to the patrol division to avoid Kapua.
Instead, she was given a permanent transfer to patrol duty and her salary was cut by two pay grades, neither of which she had requested.
Shortly afterward, Abbatiello opened her desk dictionary to find arrows pointing to the word “death” and her name written in ink beside it. She claimed the threat never had been investigated.
Instead, her lawsuit claims, she was ordered to use the back door to the police department and to stay away from Kapua.
In an amended complaint filed the following year, Abbatiello claimed she was retaliated against again when she refused an order that she believed would violate the civil rights of two women suspects.
The women both were arrested at Lihue Airport. Abbatiello was ordered to conduct strip searches of the two women, which she did, even though she questioned the warrant, which did not specifically authorize strip searches.
She then was ordered to photograph all the body cavities of the two women. At that point, she refused because of the lack of authority in the warrant.
The department allegedly retaliated by rescinding her status as a field training officer for which she received extra pay for breaking in rookie patrolmen. They also refused to give her any overtime assignments even though every officer on the KPD was working overtime.
The case was set for trial in December 2007. A month before the trial date, the Kauai County Council agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying Abbatiello $1 million, by far a record in KPD cases.
Sgt. Kapua, who was accused of threatening to kill Abbatiello and who called her a “fucking cunt” numerous times in front of numerous witnesses, never was disciplined and never was charged with any crimes for allegedly taking protection money from a drug dealer.
He retired shortly after the lawsuit was settled.