KEALAKEKUA — The Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office will remain on the case involving an ex-police officer accused of fatally striking a bicyclist in 2015.
Third Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino ruled Monday that there wasn’t any reason the office should remove itself from the case because of impropriety or a conflict of interest.
“There’s no evidence at this point as the court sees it,” he said.
He also continued the trail involving former Hawaii Police officer Jody Buddemeyer to Oct. 2. It had been scheduled for May 22 but was moved due to attorney scheduling conflicts. The trial has been continued a half dozen times.
Brian De Lima, representing Buddemeyer, sought to remove the prosecutor’s office for several reasons. He cited the conflict of a pending civil lawsuit with the decedent’s estate against Hawaii County and Buddemeyer.
County Prosecutor Mitch Roth is a co-defendant with Buddemeyer in the civil case. By having Buddemeyer found criminally guilty, Roth and Hawaii County could use that as a defense for themselves in the civil matter.
De Lima also claimed the deputy prosecuting attorney on the case, Kauanoe Jackson, represented a conflict of interest because her husband, Hawaii Police Department Sgt. Erich Jackson, stationed in South Kohala, is a supervisor for officers listed to testify during the jury trial. Another reason for recusal was Roth’s refusal to accept a plea agreement the attorneys had tentatively worked out previously.
“There’s at least an appearance of impropriety,” De Lima said. “As such we believe that’s grounds alone to recuse the prosecutor’s office.”
Buddemeyer pleaded not guilty in October 2016 to charges of first-degree negligent homicide, tampering with physical evidence and making a false report to law enforcement in connection with the March 2015 crash that killed Jeffrey Surnow, a 69-year-old visitor from Michigan.
Police say Buddemeyer was on-duty and operating a subsidized patrol car eastbound when his vehicle struck and killed Surnow as he rode his bicycle east up Waikoloa Road. The collision, which Buddemeyer reported at 6:25 a.m., occurred near mile marker 11.
First responders with the Hawaii Fire Department initially reported the incident as a hit-and-run after Surnow was found lying face down near a severely damaged bicycle on the road’s shoulder. They noted he had died prior to their arrival.
On Monday, Fujino agreed with deputy prosecuting attorney Annaliese H. Wolf, who called the claims of the relationships within the departments being too intertwined as nothing more than “deep, deep speculation” that was “a bit misguided.”
“I think all this becomes too speculative,” she told the judge, who agreed.
Buddemeyer’s trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 2