Saturday, November 8, 2008

KPD Blue- Chapter 14: A Stampede to the Courthouse; Part I: Jackie Tokashiki versus KPD

KPD Blue

By Anthony Sommer

Chapter 14: A Stampede to the Courthouse; Part I: Jackie Tokashiki versus KPD

On May 14, 2002, Jackie Tokashiki filed lawsuits in both state and federal court against Freitas and Kauai County.

Beyond the dispute in the lawsuit, Tokashiki’s case demonstrates (again) the absurdity of many parts of the hopelessly muddled Kauai County Charter.

Since 1980, Tokashiki had been the private secretary to the police chief (actually a parade of police chiefs) including Freitas. Tokashiki was an “at will” employee, meaning she had no civil service protection and could be fired at the chief’s whim.

Under the County Charter, the secretary to the police chief also is the secretary to the Police Ccommission. The concepts of “conflict of interest” and “separation of powers” apparently never entered the head of the long-ago and long-departed county attorney who first drafted the Kauai County Charter.

Working for both the police chief and the commission that sets policy for the police department was not a conflict Jackie Tokashiki spent any time fretting about for her first 21 years on the job.

But one day in July 2001, Lt. Alvin Seto and Inspector Mel Morris showed up on her doorstep with their laundry list of complaints about Chief Freitas.

According to court records, Tokashiki took off her chief’s secretary hat, put on her Police Commission’s secretary hat and processed the complaint, sending copies to the members of the commission (including Mayor Kusaka, an ex officio member) and the county attorney.

And she scheduled a special (and obviously closed-door) Commission meeting for Aug. 10, 2001.

She did not send a courtesy copy to the chief.

The reason for the executive session was not posted, a violation, again, of the state Open Meeting Law.

At the same time, still typing away in the chief’s office, she prepared a memo for the commissioners outlining the procedure for handling complaints, sent an invitation to Kusaka to attend the meeting (as if she would skip it…) and researched the issue of leave (really suspension) both with and without pay.

She also drafted a letter requesting, apparently by name, John Ko, one of the three investigators for the Honolulu Police Commission, be loaned to Kauai County.

On Aug. 10, the Commission suspended Freitas, although he didn’t learn of it until Aug. 13. The written directive Kusaka gave him, drafted by Tokashiki, required Freitas to turn in his gun, badge, identification, pager, cell phone, vehicle and office keys.

When Freitas went to his office a week later, his gun, which he had left in his desk when he was suspended, was gone.

Tokashiki had locked it in a safe, but she lied to Freitas and said she didn’t know where it was.

In fact, She had searched Freitas’s desk looking for evidence against the chief without any warrant or any authority at all.

Freitas requested the Commission bar Tokashiki from future Commission meetings regarding the investigation of him, and the county attorney told her to stay away.

Ko showed up to conduct the investigation, was given the keys to the chief’s car for his use and unpacked at the Kauai Marriott Beach Resort where he would spend the next two months with the county paying all of his expenses.

Ko asked for members of the department to step forward and talk to him about Freitas. Unlike Honolulu, where Ko usually worked, “stepping forward” is not something any local does on Kauai.

Tokashiki was then enlisted to “encourage” members of the department to be interviewed by Ko. She also gave a statement to Ko and was a key witness in the case.

As already noted, the ultimate result of all this sound and fury was two letters of reprimand in the chief’s personnel folder: One for giving his fiancĂ© a ride in his police car and the other for yelling at Inspector Mel Morris in a private meeting.

On Jan. 7, 2002, Freitas returned to work as police chief and immediately reassigned Tokashiki to a position as secretary in the Administrative and Technical Services Bureau. Her pay and benefits were unaffected.

On April 26, 2002, Freitas told Tokashiki she was terminated effective May 31.

Two weeks later Tokashiki filed lawsuits in state and federal courts claiming that, even though she was an “at will” employee and could be fired by Freitas at any time, the chief’s retaliatory firing of her had violated her job protections under the Hawaii Whistleblower’s Protection Act.

In February 2004, Tokashiki’s attorney Clayton Ikei (a Honolulu lawyer who for decades has sued Kauai County on behalf of many employees in many departments and come away with many large settlements from the county) took the depositions of the key figures in the case.

Although the facts discovered in the deposition would not become public for another two years, Ikei obtained the first up close look at what was going on at all those closed door Police Commission sessions.

What the “secret” Police Commission transcripts revealed was that after Nelson Gabriel was acquitted of molesting his stepdaughter, it had become quite clear that Freitas had been on solid legal ground when he refused to allow Lt. Alvin Seto to attempt to coerce Gabriel’s wife into lying on the stand.

Here’s what happened next that the public never was told:

Commission Chairwoman Dede Wilhelm testified in her deposition that the Commission appeared ready to consider the charge against Freitas of “hindering the prosecution” of Gabriel.

But County Attorney Hartwell Blake slammed on the brakes.

Masuoka issued his ruling in the case against Nelson Gabriel. He found Gabriel innocent.

As a direct result of Masuoka’s decision, Blake told the Commission to “lay low on this and cool it” because he had become convinced the charge by Seto and Morris was unfounded.

If the Commission voted to dismiss Freitas for “hindering prosecution,” and Freitas sued the Commission, Blake told them his office would not represent them and the county would not pay any damages awarded Freitas.

That little gem had been hidden in the Police Commission’s secret executive session minutes for five years until it was revealed by the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2006.

Circuit Judge Masuoka, to no one’s amazement, ruled in favor of the county and dismissed Tokashiki’s lawsuit. Masuoka ruled her actions were not protected by the Whistleblower’s Protection Act.

But her lawyer appealed Masuoka’s decision, and on April 11, 2006, the Hawaii Supreme Court overturned Masuoka and ordered the case be set for trial.

As usual, the trial never took place. Kauai County was willing to pay a lot of taxpayer dollars to keep its dirty laundry from public view.

More than a year later, in May 2007, Kauai County settled the lawsuit and paid Tokashiki $325,000.

Once again, the settlement was approved by the County Council in an executive session that should have been conducted in public. The topic was not noted on the Council agenda for the meeting.

And the county made no announcement of the settlement. It was leaked to the local newspaper on Kauai.

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