By Gordon Y.K. Pang
HONOLULU – The $1.1 million, out-of-court settlement between the city and former police officer Clarissa Barta for sexual harassment by colleagues is the largest settlement of its type, says Barta’s attorney, Mark Davis.
But Davis said the important breakthrough, in this case, was the willingness of police officers to testify against their own.
The settlement was approved by the City Council yesterday.
“What is significant is that it was within the Police Department and that it all came to light by virtue of police officers standing together to tell the truth,” attorney Mark Davis said.
Six or seven male and female former colleagues corroborated many of Barta’s charges. “If that had not happened, it would have been her word against the police officers’,” Davis said.
“I think (Barta) is very grateful to these officers who are really part of Honolulu’s finest for their courage to defy the code of silence, to come forward and tell the truth.”
City Council policy committee chairman Jon Yoshimura said, “We don’t like putting money out, but we felt this settlement was in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
The lawsuit charged that Barta was subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of nine officers, including superiors, while assigned to the Honolulu Airport from 1989 to 1992.
The alleged harassment included physical and sexual assault, being subjected to pornographic material and vulgar comments, and being asked out on dates despite repeated refusals. Barta also claimed her superiors retaliated against her when she tried to object, and that she was unfairly dismissed for being “medically disqualified.”
The case “created a public dialogue on the problem of sexual harassment in the Honolulu Police Department,” Davis said. He called the settlement a good first step toward “the position of gender equity and a less hostile working environment” on the force.
In October, Police Chief Michael Nakamura and the department adopted a new, more stringent procedure on sexual harassment.
The city spent $500,000 hiring private attorneys in its defense against the suit. Earlier this year, three civil rights groups had protested the city’s handling of the case. City attorneys reportedly researched Barta’s sexual history and gynecological records. The groups said the tactics were designed to intimidate and harass her.
Barta has not made any public comment on her allegations since the case was filed in July 1994 in U.S. District Court.
Davis said Barta is not employed “but she is certainly an active individual, well on her way to healing the scars that have been associated with this incident.”
She has received counseling and psychiatric assistance. With the help of her husband, Davis said, “she’s very intent upon getting her life together and rebuilding from this point forward.”
Council Budget Chairman Duke Bainum noted that of the $5 million set aside this fiscal year for settlement of claims against the city, $1.9 million was used yesterday.
Two other settlements approved that involved police officers:
$325,000 in an assault case involving a police officer in 1984.
Wahiawa resident Adrian Kaleo alleged he was severely beaten on the head
and neck in April 1984 after a police officer drove him in his patrol
car following a domestic violence call at his
Kaleo, who was believed to have been intoxicated, was to be taken to his father’s house six blocks away.
Instead, he was found beaten and on the H-2 freeway two hours later, about 4 miles away.
The hospital reported that Kaleo sustained a cracked skull. Also, his brain was split and scarred and he suffered severe neck injuries that required surgery.
$90,000 in a settlement involving former police officer Jesse Canoy. The suit claimed Canoy had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl from August through November 1992.
According to court documents, the teen was a family friend who was at the Canoy home when the assaults occurred.
Canoy is serving 10 years for the assault of that girl and four other teenagers. All are either relatives or family friends. Earlier this year, Canoy was denied probation.