A Kauai police captain is suing Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck alleging he was passed over for a promotion because of his race and then retaliated against for filing a discrimination complaint last year. The complaint resulted in a two-week suspension for the chief. 

Capt. Paul Applegate, who has been employed by the Kauai Police Department for more than 20 years, says in the lawsuit filed last week that he was the most experienced and most senior captain at KPD, and therefore the best suited, to fill a vacant assistant chief position in April 2020.

Applegate, who is part-Japanese, submitted his application for the job even though it had already been announced that another captain, who is white, had already been selected for the position without going through the formal selection process, according to the lawsuit. 

Raybuck interviewed Applegate for the promotion, but the job went to the other officer.

When he learned he did not get the promotion, Applegate met with Raybuck to discuss the selection process. During the meeting Raybuck mocked Japanese people by squinting his eyes and repeatedly bowing his head, saying that he could not trust Japanese people because “they do not always tell the truth,” according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit alleges Raybuck then said that western culture “tells it like it is,” whereas, in Japanese culture, people say, “‘yes, yes, yes’ to your face even when they think the person’s idea is stupid.”  

Hanalei, Kauai, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, Paddle Out, Protest, Police Chief Todd Raybuck, Kauai Police Department
Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck addressed hundreds of Kauai residents gathered at Hanalei Pier for a peaceful demonstration and paddle out in memory of George Floyd in June 2020. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat

Kauai Police Department spokesperson Coco Zickos said Raybuck would not comment on pending litigation.

In September, Applegate filed a complaint against Raybuck that triggered an investigation by the Kauai County Human Resources Department. The investigation found that the chief created a hostile work environment and violated a discrimination policy twice when he mocked people of Asian descent in conversation with other officers.

As a result, Raybuck was suspended without pay for five days in late April and ordered to complete Equal Employment Opportunity and Cultural Sensitivity Training.

The Human Resources investigation did not substantiate allegations made by Applegate that the chief had passed over him for a promotion as a form of retaliation or based on his bias against the officer’s race. Investigators found that the promotion process was fair and objective, according to the county press release.

But earlier this year the chief apologized for his behavior in a YouTube video, saying in a prepared statement that he values and appreciates the diversity on the police force and in the Kauai 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,” said Raybuck.

He said he never intended to discriminate against or humiliate others.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers called on Raybuck to resign immediately. But local leadership, including Mayor Derek Kawakami, voiced support for the chief, citing his good record of performance.

Raybuck moved to Kauai from Las Vegas in April 2019 to assume the role of the island’s top cop, quickly earning high marks from his officers and among the public.

The lawsuit accuses Raybuck of a number of race-based harassment incidents that occurred in the presence of other officers, including during Raybuck’s first meeting with Applegate shortly after he became chief.

Applegate also says in the lawsuit he believes the chief retaliated against him because he cooperated as a potential witness in a human resources investigation into a harassment and discrimination complaint made against Raybuck by a female KPD employee.

The lawsuit doesn’t give details of that incident or whether it was ever substantiated, and on Tuesday Zickos and Kauai County spokeswoman Kim Tamaoka did not provide answers to a request for information about it.

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