Saturday, December 20, 2008

KPD Blue: Chapter 20 : Hop Sing

KPD Blue

By Anthony Sommer

Chapter 20 : Hop Sing

K.C. Lum, then 55, a 22-year KPD veteran, was named acting chief of police in May 2004 to replace Willie Ihu, who retired as acting chief.

As with so many of the KPD officers in this story, Lum is tied to the Lap Dancing Incident.

He was a lieutenant at the time and the senior officer on the team that pulled off the sting operation on Fanta-See.

Although it was several weeks after the incident, Lum was the first KPD officer to conduct an extensive interview of Monica Alves on her allegations against Randy Machado and the other officers who took her into the watch sergeant’s office.

His report became the basis of the charges against the five KPD officers who molested Alves.

Lum was one of only two KPD officers of Chinese descent. He was raised as a US Army brat on a series of military posts. He was not a Kauai native but he spent his entire police career on the KPD.

Despite his service on the police department, he was an outsider.

When Acting Chief Willie Ihu retired Lum was selected as acting chief and was chosen by the Police Commission to be the next permanent chief.

His swearing-in ceremony at the new KPD headquarters was a strange affair.

It was packed with young patrolmen.

But there were few sergeants, no lieutenants and no assistant chiefs.

He was being shunned by the local “old guard” in a very public way.

(picture caption)
Kauai Police Chief K.C. Lum (left)on the day he filed a civil rights lawsuit against Kauai County.Leon Gonsalves, Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s only appointee on the Kauai Police Commission when Lum was hired, called the new chief “Hop Sing,” a racial slur to Chinese-Americans, the day before Lum was sworn in. The Chinese-American community on Kauai was furious. With Lum when he filed his lawsuit were Dr. Raymond Chuan (center) and former Police Commission Chairman Stanton Pa, both Chinese-American.

The other two finalists for the chief’s job were Lt. Regina Ventura, the senior female officer on the KPD and then head of the Vice Squad (which seems to be at the center of every legal controversy), and Maj. Darryl Perry, a retired member of the Honolulu Police Department but a Kauai native.

Perry was the candidate of the KPD old guard.

Lum never was accused of any misconduct in office. Try as they might, Baptiste and the County Council could find nothing to use against him at the Police Commission.

But he was forced—by Mayor Baptiste and the County Council (not the Police Commission, the only entity with the legal authority to fire a police chief on Kauai)—to retire on June 7, 2006, with more than three years remaining on his contract.

There are lots of players in this theater of the absurd.

But the leader of the band in the effort to oust Lum clearly was County Councilman Mel Rapozo.

A decade prior, he was Sgt. Mel Rapozo, the KPD supervisor who stood off to the side and smirked while four KPD patrolmen fondled Monica Alves in Rapozo’s office. He did nothing to stop them.

The math is simple: Rapozo was a bad cop who took a fall, ended up on the County Council, saw his opportunity to punish Lum, who had reported him for his role in the Alves incident, and seized it.

The other key player was Leon Gonsalves, a retired cop who was the only member of the Police Commission appointed by Baptiste and the only police commissioner to vote against Lum. Gonsalves was a longtime friend of Perry’s.

More important, Gonsalves was the one whose blatant racist comment about Lum lit the fuse on everything else that happened.

On Oct. 14, 2004, the day before Lum was sworn in as chief and Ron Venneman (a retired LAPD detective who was one of the very few white members of the KPD) became deputy chief, Gonsalves sent an email to a friend at the Kauai County Prosecutor’s Office.

There was no question he was upset that two haoles, two “outsiders,” were going to be the top two officials of the KPD.

“Tomorrow is the swearing in for Hop Sing and Little Joe, I wouldn’t be there, thank Good (sic). I might throw up,” Gonsalves wrote.

The email was forwarded many times all over Kauai.

Both Hop Sing and Little Joe were characters on the long-running television pre-political-correctness western Bonanza.

Hop Sing was the cook for the Cartwright family, the central characters in the series, and intended solely as a comic figure. He was easily excited and often defended his kitchen with a meat cleaver.

Hop Sing wore a skull cap and a long pigtail. Chinese- Americans saw him as a negative cultural stereotype and being called “Hop Sing” was definitely not a compliment.

K.C. Lum is Chinese-American. So is Mike Ching, at that time the chairman of the Kauai Police Commission. Another member of the Police Commission, Stanton Pa, although his name is Hawaiian, also is part Chinese.

Even Kauai’s most strident political activist, Ray Chuan, who has a PhD in physics, is Chinese (although, because he’s lived most of his life on the mainland, Chuan is considered a haole by locals).

Little Joe was the youngest of the Cartwright sons. He was played by actor Michael Landon (real name Eugene Orowitz), who was Jewish. Ron Venneman, the new deputy chief, is Jewish.

Gonsalves insisted he had called Lum Hop Sing for many years without any complaints he was being racist.

He said he nicknamed Venneman Little Joe because the television character had long curly hair of which he was quite proud and Venneman similarly placed a lot of emphasis on how he combed his hair.

“It’s not about prejudice,” Gonsalves said shortly afterward. “I don’t like it. It’s just turned into something that was not supposed to be,” said Gonsalves, who is Hawaiian and Portuguese, in an interview shortly afterward.

“I have daughters-in-law who are haole, Japanese, Filipino. My grandchildren are all mixed up like chop suey, and I love every one of them,” he said.

He added he didn’t even know either Venneman or Landon was Jewish.

“To me, Ron looks like Little Joe. I don’t know what religion he is,” Gonsalves said, adding what certainly reflects the “they all look like to me” attitude of locals:

“I look at a Caucasian and to me he’s a haole. I don’t distinguish between German or Irish or whatever.

“As long as you don’t add any adjectives to the term, haole just means he’s foreigner. There’s nothing wrong with being a haole.

“I’ve already apologized. There isn’t anything else I can do.”

By mainland political standards it was time for Mayor Bryan Baptiste (who, like Gonsalves, is Hawaiian and Portuguese) to immediately step up and give an angry and impassioned speech about how he won’t tolerate racism or racist comments in county government.

Instead, Baptiste fanned the flames by doing nothing. His sole comment on Gonsalves’s email was that it was “inappropriate.”

The mayor knew that the vast majority of his local constituents used racial slurs in everyday conversation.

And he wanted a second term.

But, in the meanwhile, Gonsalves’s comments were getting national media attention.

And Chinese-Americans on Kauai (a very small minority; because most Chinese sugar workers on Kauai migrated to Honolulu when they left the plantations) were getting angry.

Violet Hee, the 85-year-old president of the Chinese Cultural Heritage of Kauai, called for Gonsalves to resign immediately.

Lum was threatening to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court accusing Gonsalves (who technically was one of his bosses) with racism and creating a hostile work environment.

So, Baptiste had to come up with a plan.

And he did. It actually was more a script on which Gonsalves and the County Council agreed beforehand how to play their roles.

On Nov. 5, 2004, Baptiste announced he had asked Gonsalves to resign from the Kauai Police Commission and Gonsalves refused.

Gonsalves confirmed the mayor’s press release: “I talked to the mayor last night and I told him I don’t think I’ll resign.”

Baptiste said in his press release (he wasn’t, of course, available for questions) that he would ask the Kauai County Council to remove Gonsalves from office.

The Council had approved Gonsalves’s appointment, so now they must disapprove it in order for Gonsalves to be removed, the mayor had decided.

No one could remember a member of a county board or commission being removed. And there was nothing in the County Charter about it.

So, it never was clear whether Baptiste or the County Council should have the final word on firing Gonsalves. Clearly, Baptiste was scurrying for cover. He didn’t want to speak out against racism. So he dumped it on the County Council.

His letter to the Council asking it to fire Gonsalves was hardly a stand against racial discrimination:

“My decision to request Mr. Gonsalves’s removal from the (Police) Commission has little to do with whether his remarks in the controversial email message were racially prejudiced or not.”

And, knowing their constituents would consider a Council firing of Gonsalves a criticism of their racist local culture, the Council did nothing for six months.

Finally, in April, 2005, the Council voted to deny the mayor’s request to remove Gonsalves. Gonsalves continued to serve as on the Police Commission.

On Feb. 7, 2006, Lum filed a $1.2 million federal civil rights suit against Kauai County alleging he was the target of discrimination and retaliation because he is an American of Chinese descent.

Lum said the conspiracy between the mayor, County Council and numerous unidentified KPD officers was caused by his insistence on change in the KPD and “to enforce the law no matter where the chips may fall.”

Lum’s attorney is Clayton Ikei, who had represented Jackie Tokashiki and Alvin Seto.

“The facts speak clearly,” Ikei said at the press conference announcing Lum’s lawsuit.

“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—those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo.”

A federal judge dismissed Gonsalves as a defendant. Lum has appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the lawsuit against the county is on hold until the 9th Circuit rules.

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