Plea change expected for jail guard facing drug charge

HILO — A state corrections officer accused of possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia is set to change his plea.

Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto on Thursday set a change of plea hearing at 8 a.m on Jan. 7 for 59-year-old Ricky R. Espejo of Pahala at the request of Espejo’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sherilyn Tavares.

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Espejo, who’s charged with third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possession of drug paraphernalia, pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 25.

The drug charge is a Class C felony that carries a potential five-year prison sentence upon conviction.

He’s free on $2,000 bail.

According to police, Espejo, who is assigned to Hale Nani Correctional Facility, a minimum-security jail on the southern outskirts of Hilo, was pulled over by a Hilo patrol officer just after midnight May 2 because the pickup truck he was driving had a defective brake light.

Police say the officer also discovered the weight tax and safety check stickers on the truck were expired.

The officer saw drug paraphernalia in plain view, arrested Espejo and a then-29-year-old woman passenger — identified in a police log as Krystal Kahalioumi of Hilo — and impounded the truck as evidence, according to police.

A search warrant was executed on the vehicle, and officers found paraphernalia items with methamphetamine residue, police said.

Kahalioumi was released from custody pending further investigation.

To date, she hasn’t been charged in this case, but in a separate case filed in January 2018, Kahalioumi pleaded guilty Aug. 8 this year to third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and a felony resisting an order to stop charge.

She is scheduled to be sentenced by Nakamoto at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 26. In return for her guilty plea, prosecutors dropped charges of possessing drug paraphernalia, reckless driving and driving without a license.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in an email Thursday Espejo’s records “show that he’s currently employed with the department.”

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“We are unable to comment further during the ongoing investigations, mindful that the individuals are presumed innocent until adjudicated otherwise,” Schwartz said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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