KEALAKEKUA — A former Hawaii police officer will not serve jail time after a jury found him guilty of misdemeanor negligent homicide for fatally striking a cyclist more than three years ago.
On Friday, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino sentenced Jody Buddemeyer to one year probation. Special conditions include that he will be committed to the Department of Public Safety where he will be monitored for 60 days with electronic monitoring.
Buddemeyer was originally charged with first-degree negligent homicide, evidence tampering and false reporting after fatally striking cyclist Jeffrey Surnow in his police-subsidized vehicle on March 1, 2015. Following a trial in October, jurors acquitted him of evidence tampering and false reporting and found him guilty of negligent homicide in a lesser offense.
During Friday’s hearing, Fujino said the court could only consider a sentence to what the defendant was found guilty of, which was a misdemeanor.
“This case is a tragic situation,” the judge said. “No matter what sentence this court renders, it will never bring Jeff Surnow back. No amount of sentence should be equivalent to his life.”
During the October trial, evidence presented showed Buddemeyer struck Surnow from behind while traveling east on Waikoloa Road. The prosecution asserted throughout the trial the former officer falsely reported the crash when he called it into dispatch as a hit-and-run.
On Friday, Deputy Prosecutor Kauanoe Jackson said since the beginning and during Buddemeyer’s testimony in the trial, there was no real acknowledgement of fault other than the jury’s decision.
“We come here today with an incident that was completely and 100 percent avoidable had the defendant chosen a different path,” Jackson said.
The state asked the court to impose the one-year jail sentence.
“Up to this point true responsibility has not been taken and the consequence in this case is so egregious that we cannot bear the end result be probation,” Jackson argued.
Surnow’s family was present in court and also presented statements asking Fujino to impose the one-year jail time.
“There’s really nothing much I can say that adequately describes the irreparable damage Jody Buddemeyer has caused my family by killing my dad,” Surnow’s son, Sam, said Friday. “Our family has been completely turned upside down in more ways than anyone can possibly imagine.”
While he truly believed killing his father was an accident, Sam Surnow said he feels a sworn police officer, who was on the job, should be held to a higher standard.
“He didn’t act honorably,” Sam Surnow said of Buddemeyer. “He acted very cowardly and it’s unacceptable to me, certainly not the way a person with a good moral compass should be acting, let alone a police officer. And there’s no excuse for it.”
Shocked by the jury’s decision, Sam Surnow pleaded with Fujino to impose the maximum possible punishment.
Sending the former officer to jail won’t necessarily make him feel better, Sam Surnow said.
“But to me, it’s the consequence that is necessary of wrongful decision making in a defining moment,” he added. “And by acting the way that he did in that moment, Buddemeyer defined who he was, a coward who manipulated a crime scene, manipulated my dad’s body and left him dead on the side of the road.”
Surnow’s widow, Elaine, also pleaded with the court to impose the harshest sentence possible.
“You’re the only one who can bring some kind of justice in my mind,” Elaine Surnow said to Fujino. “Please show some kind of punishment. I need some kind of closure. I need to know some kind of justice is being done.”
Surnow’s youngest son, Max, echoed many of the same sentiments of his mother and brother in his statement to the court, driving home the fact his father will never see another sunrise, walk his sister down the aisle at her wedding or hug his mother.
After their comments, Defense Counsel Brian De Lima stated the jury made a finding of simple negligence.
“Frankly, I don’t know of a negligent homicide in the third-degree case that any court has ever imposed one year in jail,” De Lima said. “Mr. Buddemeyer should be treated the same as any other defendant.”
De Lima added the victim’s family is asking the court to impose a sentence that far exceeds what he was found guilty of.
Buddemeyer also made a statement to the court and addressed the Surnow family. Through tears, he said, there were no words that could express how truly sorry he was for their loss.
His entire life, the former officer said, he’s tried to live honorably, meaningfully and humbly – dedicating his life to his family, and career to the safety and well-being of the communities he’s lived in.
“The fact that a good man, a devoted husband and father, will never again see his family and loved ones, is something that I must live with for the rest of my life,” Buddemeyer said. “I can’t in good conscience ask you to forgive me, all I can say is how sorry I am for this accident.”
After sentencing, Fujino told Buddemeyer that he knows he’s been remorseful, but “you need to move on with your life.”
After the sentence, the family walked out and left the courthouse.
Buddemeyer will appear back in court on Dec. 28 to determine whether he plans to appeal the sentence.
Cycling enthusiasts were also present for the hearing.
“The bad part is the judge didn’t have a choice,” said cyclist Franz Weber.
Weber added the result of the Buddemeyer case shows that cyclists shouldn’t think they are protected by the law.
“The only protection is to be careful and cautious,” he said. “Never assume anyone sees you. Never assume if you’re right, you’re safe.”