When Jody Buddemeyer was sentenced in November to one year of probation for striking and killing a cyclist in 2015, many in the community — including this editorial board — felt the ex-officer got off lightly.
Buddemeyer was found guilty by a jury in October of negligent homicide. The former Hawaii Police officer, however, was acquitted of evidence tampering and false reporting, though evidence presented during trial showed that he altered the scene after the accident and initially called it in falsely as a hit-and-run.
Buddemeyer’s defense chalked it up to sleep deprivation from back-to-back work shifts mixed with panic that led him to report the March 1, 2015, accident on Waikoloa Road so woefully wrong.
It’s difficult to say how anyone reacts in the moment when something very intense, emotional and scary is happening. Panic and terror can dictate poor decisions, even though police officers are trained to handle exactly those emotions during exactly those times — unlike most civilians.
Nevertheless, it was a trial with a lot of gray areas.
Buddemeyer faced up to a year in jail after he was found guilty, which in this case would have been just.
Nobody believed Buddemeyer was a hardened criminal with malicious intent who deserved a decade behind bars. But up to a year in jail — gosh, six months even — could have been a proper punishment that would have also served as a deterrent to officers, whom society holds to high standards, to act similarly.
Instead, Buddemeyer got a slap on the wrist.
What message does that send to the community? Certainly not a good one.
If courts were sports, Buddemeyer won. Much to the chagrin of the Surnow family, who pleaded with the judge to impose the yearlong sentence and who quickly and quietly darted from the courtroom after judge Melvin Fujino’s gavel came down.
Here, Buddemeyer would have done well to walk away and make amends on his own. Instead, he filed a motion to get the conviction tossed out — an appeal that comes across as heartless.
Buddemeyer’s attorney Brian De Lima filed the appeal because he believes the motion for acquittal he filed in November, which was denied, should’ve been granted. De Lima is basing that on testimony from one of the doctors during trial that stated Buddemeyer suffered a neuro-cognitive disorder because of the required back-to-back schedule the former officer had worked around the time of the accident.
De Lima said the prosecution didn’t present any evidence to rebut the doctor’s findings.
Worse, the county is funding Buddemeyer’s defense. As an officer who was involved in an accident, the county was on the hook for his $50,000 lawyer tab and is on the hook now for $50,000 more.
Whether it’s Buddemeyer or De Lima leading this charge, it seems wrong.
Understood, legally it’s a course of action available. Surely, being acquitted of the criminal charge could bode well for the still pending civil case, as well.
But on a moral level, it seems below the belt. Especially considering how remorseful Buddemeyer appeared to be during trial and sentencing, where he openly wept and told the family how sorry he felt.
“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 told the court during his sentencing. “I can’t in good conscience ask you to forgive me, all I can say is how sorry I am for this accident.”
Those tears seem quite the show now, those cries for compassion seem hollow.
Then again, words are never proof of character, action is.