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Officer sues Kauai police chief for racial discrimination

  • THE GARDEN ISLAND VIA AP
                                Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck speaks at a news conference in Lihue in 2020.

    THE GARDEN ISLAND VIA AP

    Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck speaks at a news conference in Lihue in 2020.

A police captain on Kauai has filed a lawsuit alleging his police chief discriminated against him for being Japanese American, including an episode when the chief squinted his eyes, bowed repeatedly and said he couldn’t trust Japanese people.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu last week names Police Chief Todd Raybuck, Kauai County, the Kauai Police Department, the Kauai Police Commission and multiple unnamed individuals to be determined.

The police commission in April suspended Raybuck without pay for five days for making discriminatory comments after an investigation found he mocked people of Asian descent.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, 55-year-old Paul Applegate, is part Japanese and has worked for the police department since 2000.

His lawsuit alleges multiple instances of Raybuck — who became Kauai’s police chief in 2019 after he retired from 27 years as a police officer in Las Vegas — squinting his eyes at Applegate and mocking Asians.

The lawsuit alleges the department internally announced a white officer had been selected as assistant chief of the administrative and technical bureau even though no formal selection process had taken place. When Applegate applied for the job anyway, Raybuck interviewed him one-on-one even though prior department practice called for two people to conduct such interviews.

When Applegate met with Raybuck afterward to discuss the selection process, criteria and scoring, the lawsuit said the chief mocked the appearance of Japanese people.

“Chief Raybuck proceeded to squint his eyes and repeatedly bow to plaintiff, stating that he could not trust Japanese people because they do not always tell the truth,” the lawsuit said. “He then stated that the Western culture ‘tells it like it us,’ whereas the Japanese culture says ‘yes, yes, yes’ to your face even when they think the person’s idea is stupid.”

Alden Alayvilla, a spokesperson for Kauai County, said the county was unable to comment because of pending litigation. Coco Zickos, a spokesperson for the police department and Raybuck, said neither could comment because of pending litigation.

The lawsuit said Applegate filed complaints with the Kauai Police Commission, the county and the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

When the police commission suspended Raybuck, the police department said the chief would be required to complete Equal Employment Opportunity anti-discrimination training and cultural sensitivity training.

The department didn’t provide details about the violations found by the commission’s investigation, only the dates: Nov. 13, 2019 and July 29, 2020. These dates correspond with episodes detailed in Applegate’s lawsuit.

Raybuck said in a statement upon his April suspension that he values and appreciates diversity in the workplace and community.

“I accept responsibility for my comments and will continue to use this experience to expand my cultural awareness and increase my knowledge and understanding of different cultures,” he said.

Applegate’s lawsuit said Raybuck continued to discriminate after returning from his suspension. The lawsuit said Raybuck denied Applegate’s request to be temporarily assigned with pay to an assistant chief position while an assistant chief was temporarily assigned to the chief’s office. Other officers were treated differently, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said that in June, Raybuck brought three individuals on to his command staff — all of them white.

The lawsuit seeks damages and attorneys fees.

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