A newly released investigative report into racist remarks by Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck provides new details about circumstances leading to the suspension of the chief in April 2021.

The report also reveals that Raybuck, who moved to Kauai from Las Vegas to head the Garden Isle’s police department in April 2019, is the subject of at least two additional complaints filed by Kauai Police Department employees in the last two years. 

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Raybuck was suspended by the Kauai Police Commission after he was caught on audio mocking people of Asian descent by bowing his head, squinting his eyes and mimicking someone with a Japanese accent as well as other inappropriate remarks about Japanese people. 

A county investigation into the incident was prompted when one officer, Capt. Paul Applegate, filed a discrimination complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September 2020. More recently, in August, Applegate filed a lawsuit against the chief and the county that is still in the works.

Now, new details shed light on Applegate’s claim that he was passed over for a promotion to an assistant chief position due to his race. Applegate is part-Japanese and has been with the department more than 20 years.

He says in the lawsuit that he was the most experienced and most senior captain at KPD, and therefore the best suited to fill the vacant assistant chief position. By the time he submitted his application for the job, it had already been announced that the chief had selected Lt. Elliott Ke, who is Hawaiian, for the position without following the formal selection process.

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/2020

An investigative report completed by the Kauai County Human Resources Department in January 2021 and released to Civil Beat this week under a public records request shows publicly for the first time how that hiring process played out.

According to the investigation, conducted by Annette Anderson who is the director of the county human resources department, Raybuck in fact did offer Ke the assistant chief job even before posting it. A two-person independent panel assigned to retroactively review the job candidates by Anderson ranked Ke as the most qualified job candidate, lending credibility to Raybuck’s hiring decision.

Ultimately, investigators could not substantiate allegations made by Applegate that the chief had passed him over for a promotion based on his race, and found that the hiring process was fair and objective.

Jeff Portnoy, Raybuck’s attorney, characterized Applegate’s suit as “totally without merit,” adding that the chief has already been vindicated by the findings of county investigators.

“There are some elements of the Kauai Police Department, including the union, that are constantly filing complaints against the chief and we are vigorously defending any one of them as they come forward,” said Portnoy. “It’s just a pattern and practice that’s very unfortunate.”

Kauai Police Department spokesman Marco Valera said Raybuck would not comment for this story and referred questions to his lawyers.

What The Investigation Showed

The 50-page investigative report into Applegate’s allegations lays out a hiring process that did not go as planned.

The chief admitted to investigators that he asked Ke to assume a vacant assistant chief position in April 2020 — before the department formally publicized the job opening — because he mistakenly believed he could appoint an assistant chief without conducting interviews with eligible candidates. 

Kauai Police Dept signage on police vehicle.
When Todd Raybuck left Las Vegas to become the Garden Isle’s police chief in April 2019, it was seen by some as a possible end to what had become the status quo: a police force embattled by controversy, disunity and low morale. But he soon became embroiled in his own controversy. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

When Ke accepted the assistant chief position, he told his staff about the appointment and news spread through the department. One assistant chief even started addressing Ke as “chief” in emails, Raybuck said. 

Applegate and Lt. Kenneth Cummings, the other job candidate, told investigators that they had heard Ke was set to become the new assistant chief about a week before the job was formally posted. Raybuck had asked his staff to formalize Ke’s appointment and then was told he had to conduct a formal recruitment process, starting with posting it. 

The chief told investigators that in his past job at the Las Vegas police department, he was not required to go through the interview process with candidates he did not want to hire.

Raybuck told investigators that he did not make up his mind immediately following interviews with the three candidates. He “hoped that Ke would come out on top, but Ke would have to prove it,” according to the report. 

The chief told investigators that he considers Ke a close friend with whom he would regularly go to the beach and off-road bike riding.

Applegate alleged in his complaint that the relationship gave Ke an unfair advantage.

“The chief said he knew Ke was the right person for the job given that he had already announced it before he knew he had to recruit,” the report said. “He was scared, however, that Ke would not prove he was number one during the interview, noting that one of Ke’s challenges is that he is too humble and not a master communicator.”

Ke assumed the assistant chief position in August 2020. Raybuck hired him without the help of a selection panel, based on his scoring of the three candidates’ interviews, resumes and cover letters, according to the report.

Investigators concluded that although it is “unfortunate that the chief was not aware that the AC position required posting and others within KPD learned that he was attempting to appoint Ke” before anyone else had the chance to contend for it, his actions were not an intentional attempt to circumvent civil service rules.

And although the chief was found to have made offensive racial remarks and gestures, allegations that he made hiring decisions based on racial preferences were not substantiated by county investigators.

In fact, Cummings as well as Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce told investigators that they had not seen the chief engage in racist behavior or discriminatory hiring practices. 

Capt. Mark Ozaki told investigators he has heard the chief make ethnic jokes, but has never heard him say he does not like certain races.

Raybuck publicly apologized for his behavior last year saying in a YouTube video that he was “deeply sorry for the hurt my words have caused.”

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

Other Complaints Surface

Two other complaints against the chief are detailed in the investigative report. 

Cummings, the other applicant for the assistant chief job, also filed a complaint over the hiring process. His complaint was also investigated by the county HR department, but the details and specific allegations have not been disclosed. He did not return a request for comment for this story.

Another complaint was filed in June 2020 by former KPD spokeswoman Coco Zickos, who left the department earlier this month. The details and result of the complaint also have not been released, but in a conversation with county investigators detailed in the investigative report, Raybuck acknowledged he had a “very inappropriate telephone call” with his public information officer regarding the Black Lives Matter movement during which he “repeatedly swore and yelled throughout the phone call.”

Audio recordings of the phone call sent to Civil Beat last summer show an animated Raybuck angrily explaining to Zickos why he didn’t want to speak out publicly about the protests and scrutiny of the police nationwide, including on Kauai, following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The chief responds to her request with a sharp tone and vulgarity before saying, “please don’t take that personal, that wasn’t in any way directed at you.”

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Raybuck, who previously served for nearly 27 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told Civil Beat at the time that he knew LVMPD officer Shay Mikalonis, who was shot in the head by a protester in front of the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino on the Vegas Strip in June 2020.

Mikalonis suffered critical spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Raybuck was upset that his friend was fighting for his life because of public outrage over the misguided actions of a police officer in another city. That was a difficult psychological blow for him, he said then.

Zickos, who is no longer employed by KPD as of May 3, said in a text message last week that she wants to put the incident with Raybuck behind her.

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