Former trustees: 'Wall of secrecy' at Kamehameha Schools helped sex abuse stay hidden

Former trustees: 'Wall of secrecy' at Kamehameha Schools helped sex abuse stay hidden
Published: Nov. 28, 2017 at 10:09 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2017 at 5:07 PM HST
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Henry Peters (Image: Archives)
Henry Peters (Image: Archives)
Kevin Wakayama (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Kevin Wakayama (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - During the 1980s and 1990s, the Kamehameha Schools and the Bishop Estate were run by powerful and politically-connected trustees.

One of the best known was former state House Speaker Henry Peters, who told Hawaii News Now on Tuesday the board was never informed about the sexual assaults of dozens of students by Dr. Robert Browne, a psychiatrist who served as a consultant for the school.

"Absolutely not. And if we were, there's no question in my mind we would have dealt with it immediately," he said.

Peters said the abuses were hidden so long because of a "wall of secrecy" erected by then-President Michael Chun and other campus administrators.

"There are a few who perpetuate this kind of atmosphere and this holding on to secrets and were not sharing that because it might make some people uncomfortable," Peters said.

According to a civil lawsuit filed by the former students, one of the parents asked Chun in 1991 to investigate allegations that his boys were molested by Browne, who committed suicide in 1991 after being confronted by one of his victims.

In an August 2016 deposition, Chun said he was relying on advice from the Bishop Estate legal department, which apparently didn't follow up.

Attorney Eric Seitz said that department often bottled things up.

"A lot of stuff that was happening at the school was never really communicated to the trustees," said Seitz, who represented ex-trustee and former state Senate President Richard "Dickie" Wong.

Some of the victims even turned to attorney Kevin Wakayama, who was overseeing the Bishop Estate accounts for the state Attorney General's office.

"I encouraged them to come forward. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, no one was willing to come forward," Wakayama said.

"They have been harassed and intimidated. … The retribution is real and it continues to be real today."

The Kamehameha Schools now acknowledges that the sex assaults did take place and that it has taken many measures to detect abuse.

"We feel deeply for the individuals. ...  Clearly, more could've been done for these students," CEO Jack Wong said, in a statement to Hawaii News Now.

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