Officer defense lays case

  • Jody Buddemeyer appears in Circuit Court on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Jody Buddemeyer appears in 3rd Circuit Court with his attorney Brian De Lima on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA — A court-appointed doctor testified a former Hawaii County police officer suffered from a shift-work sleep disorder the morning he fatally struck a cyclist in March 2015.

The defense for Jody Buddemeyer began presenting its case to the jury in 3rd Circuit Court this week. On Wednesday, defense counsel Brian De Lima called three doctors to the stand who were court-appointed to interview his client to determine if he was penally responsible for the alleged crime.

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All three testified Buddemeyer was fit to proceed after interviewing the defendant in February 2017. However, the three doctors unanimously and independently determined the former officer’s mental state at the time of the crash was significantly impaired due to an acute stress reaction.

The state has accused Buddemeyer of negligent homicide, tampering with physical evidence and false reporting to law enforcement after striking cyclist Jeffrey Surnow in his police subsidized vehicle in the early morning hours of March 1, 2015. After the collision, the former officer reportedly picked up broken pieces of his car and hid them in his trunk.

All doctors reviewed additional police reports and medical reports at the office for Probation Services Division. Psychologist Frederick Manke was one of the doctors who reviewed the reports and interviewed the defendant.

“I determined Mr. Buddemeyer suffered acute stress disorder with dissociative symptoms,” Manke said.

Manke explained to the court Buddemeyer was a high-functioning individual who was sleep deprived.

“How much, I can’t say,” he added.

Psychiatrist Henry H. Yang took the stand. He testified Buddemeyer described what his work schedule was and how the Hawaii County Police Department regularly requires officers to work double backs at the end of each month.

On Feb. 28, 2015, Buddemeyer worked 6:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. He returned to work about seven hours later at 10:30 p.m.

When De Lima asked Yang his opinion about the charge of negligent homicide against Buddemeyer, he told the court it was his opinion the defendant suffered from a shift-work sleep disorder.

Yang explained the disorder occurs when shift work interferes with an individual’s normal time of sleep. The disorder is recognized by the American Medical Association and is treated by medical insurance.

Yang added Buddemeyer suffered a neurocognitive disorder based on the cognitive disruption at the time of the accident.

“It was my opinion that his perception and attention wasn’t there at the time of the accident,” Yang testified. “His actions were impaired because of the sleep disorder.”

When asked about his opinion on the two other charges lodged against Buddemeyer, Yang recapped the interview he conducted with the defendant to provide background for his opinion.

“When I saw him, he was a 32-year-old guy, born and raised in Maine,” the doctor stated. “I believe his history is consistent with a law-abiding citizen.”

Yang added Buddemeyer received a college degree in criminal justice. During his two years as a police officer in Hawaii County, he was in good standing.

“Here we have an individual in good social standing when the accident happened,” Yang explained.

He went on to say there were several officers who witnessed Buddemeyer as not being himself.

According to reports he reviewed, Yang told the court Buddemeyer walked about the crash scene, cried and was agitated.

“There’s different stories he told to different officers after this traumatic incident,” he explained.

After the crash, Buddemeyer was taken off his duties, and terminated from the department three months later.

“In my opinion, his capacity was significantly impaired by an acute stress reaction to the accident,” Yang testified.

During cross- examination by Deputy Prosecutor Kauanoe Jackson, Yang stated he didn’t remember reviewing DVDs of officer interviews as well as did not interview the responding officers themselves.

Yang reiterated he relied on officer statements provided.

When asked about Buddemeyer’s work schedule, Yang testified he had not reviewed it.

Jackson asked Yang if he knew the defendant had Feb. 25-26 off and called in sick Feb. 27, prior to his double-back shift.

Yang was unaware. However, he testified it would not have impacted his opinion due to the fact that the sleep disorder occurs over a period of time.

“It’s the change in shift over the course of two years,” Yang told the court.

He added the disorder doesn’t affect all officers.

Jackson asked Yang if he had conducted any further sleep studies and reviewed brain activity to support the sleep disorder.

Yang had not.

“Much of what you relied on was what the defendant self-reported on his sleep schedule,” Jackson clarified with Yang.

The doctor agreed as well as other reasons.

In regards to the evidence tampering and false statements to police, Yang testified he had not listened to the dispatch call when the crash was called in.

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He also admitted to not reviewing all the property evidence receipts connected to the incident.

The defense will continue its case today.