No charges in stolen police drug case; deputy chief calls investigation ‘thorough’

KAILUA-KONA — No charges will be filed in a stolen drug evidence case involving a former officer with the Hawaii Police Department.

“After careful review, we have decided not to file charges,” the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu said in a statement provided Tuesday to West Hawaii Today.

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In the release, the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu indicated they had been asked to review a conflict case from Hawaii County involving three alleged counts of securing the proceeds of an offense.

“Based on the evidence presented to us there is no probable cause to support a charge of Securing the Proceeds of an Offense or any other crime,” the statement read.

According to Hawaii Revised Statutes, a “person commits the offense of securing the proceeds of an offense if, with intent to assist another in profiting or benefiting from the commission of a crime, he aids the person in securing the proceeds of the crime.”

Brooks Baehr, communications and community affairs with the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, confirmed the office had been screening the Hawaii County case for charges since it was submitted to them by the Department of the Attorney General.

The case stems from Hawaii County police investigating one of their own for reportedly stealing drug evidence from the Hilo evidence storage facility.

The initial police investigation began last fall when cocaine, originally recovered in 2014, was found to be lighter than reported during its initial recovery. The discrepancy was discovered when the evidence was being weighed in preparation to utilize a small quantity of the cocaine for training purposes.

The investigation identified a sworn employee as a person of interest for the missing portions of the drug, police said. The employee was placed on administrative leave without pay and subsequent audits of other evidence recovered by the officer revealed other anomalies, which revealed cases where there was a weight discrepancy in marijuana concentrate, (hashish), from two separate investigations.

The detective retired prior to the completion of the investigation and is no longer an employee with the county. The case was formally referred to the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on March 2.

Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth looked over the pages-long investigation and determined it would be a conflict of interest for his office to prosecute. He forwarded the case to the Attorney General’s Office in Honolulu. That office determines whether the case will be handled in-house or be assigned to another county prosecutor’s office, which is common practice.

On Tuesday, Roth said he wasn’t surprised Honolulu declined the case. Like Honolulu, Roth indicated Hawaii County also reviews a lot of cases.

“We have an ethical duty to only charge cases we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “There’s a lot of cases that come to our office that we don’t charge.”

Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville said after reviewing the case, he was also not surprised Honolulu declined prosecution. The biggest reason being there was too much access to the evidence facility.

Because no arrest was made in the case, West Hawaii Today has been unable to confirm or report the identity of the former police officer under investigation. The newspaper, however, has confirmed that the sworn employee served about 26 years with the department.

Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. However, Deputy Chief Kenneth Bugado spoke on behalf of the department.

“We obviously thought we had enough for a successful prosecution,” Bugado said. “They (prosecutor’s office) make the determination. Apparently, they felt this investigation didn’t have enough.”

Usually, Bugado said, prosecutors will contact police if follow-up work is needed. That didn’t occur in this case.

“We’re always hopeful we can get a favorable outcome,” he said. “We thought we had a pretty good case.”

The deputy chief added it’s disappointing when something like this involving an officer happens. However, it was the department’s job to investigate it.

“We definitely wanted to do our best efforts in this investigation as we do in all investigations,” Bugado said. “It’s something we’re not going to tolerate, of course.”

“As we always do, we did a thorough job,” he added.

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Ferreira said in July that the department has already made adjustments to its procedures in how it handles the withdrawal of evidence from the evidence locker.

That includes requiring an officer to get supervisor approval for retrieval; audits and inspections of randomly selected drug evidence seized; in addition to annual random inspections of police evidence storage facilities conducted by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.