KAILUA-KONA — Prosecutors are looking to have a felony drug case thrown out at the request of the police chief because a key witness is a sworn police officer under internal investigation.
After conferring with Police Chief Paul Ferreira, the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Jose Miranda in a drug case that spans 18 months. The unnamed witness is on leave from the department due to an on-going internal investigation.
Miranda was charged with 11 counts of first-degree promoting a dangerous drug, a class A felony, in December 2017. Two counts were dropped and after four continuances, trial was set to begin on June 18.
On May 24, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Robert DS Kim called for an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss before issuing a ruling.
The judge called it a serious case involving multiple felonies and said it is the duty of the court to investigate further to determine whether the case should be dismissed, according to court minutes.
The state then filed a motion to close to the public the evidentiary hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss.
Kim will take up the issue at 3 p.m. Thursday at the 3rd Circuit Court, 79-1020 Haukapila St., in Kealakekua. The public is invited to submit testimony on whether the hearing should be closed to the public.
“You are hereby notified that a public hearing will take place … regarding the closing of a criminal case proceeding to the public (State of Hawaii vs. Jose H. Miranda),” Kim’s Notice to the Public posted at the courthouse states. “The public has a right to access most criminal proceedings and the closing of the proceeding may implicate those rights. This is the public’s opportunity to intervene prior to the closing of the proceeding, if so ordered. The public is invited to attend the hearing to provide meaningful objections or offer alternatives to the closure, if appropriate.”
Kim, who declined to comment for this article, stated, according to court minutes, that the court wants to make sure if a dismissal is granted, it will be with knowledge and full understanding of the reasons provided by attorneys on behalf of their case.
It is also the requirement of the court, the judge added, to make sure the public has faith in the judicial system.
According to Ferreira in a court declaration dated June 3, the unnamed material witness at the center of the conflict was a sworn HPD officer who is currently on leave from the department.
Ferreira stated that neither the witness nor a HPD representative could appear for testimony, and documents regarding the nature of the leave could not be provided due to an on-going internal investigation implicating the witness.
“There are no alternatives to closure that would adequately protect the compelling interest,” the County of Hawaii Deputy Corporation Council Lerisa Heroldt stated in defense of the motion. “Thus, under the circumstances of this case, the prejudice to compelling interests at issue overrides the public’s qualified right of access, and closure is warranted for this Court’s adjudication of the Motion.”
Heroldt also noted that the motion should be granted in order to preserve and protect the witness’ significant privacy interest, and HPD’s duty and privilege of confidentiality for its policies’ files, including personnel and other internal files, and records set forth in Hawaii Revised Statutes and the SHOPO Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Two former HPD officers, meanwhile, are facing gambling and drug charges.
Retired officer Brian Miller has pleaded not guilty to illegally taking drug evidence and a police locker and notifying Hilo arcade owners of an upcoming gambling raid.
Chadwick Fukui — a former Hilo Criminal Investigations Division commander who retired in 2006 and worked as an investigator for the county prosecutor from 2007-2014 — is facing charges of hindering prosecution, criminal conspiracy and tampering with physical evidence. Those misdemeanor charges are in connection with the Aug. 10, 2017, raid on Triple 7 in Hilo.
West Hawaii Today opposed the idea of shutting out the public.
“Closing the hearing would not only be a terrible precedent, but it would lend the appearance of impropriety around the officers and officials sworn to protect us,” Editor Tom Hasslinger said Tuesday. “The public’s business should be conducted in public light.”