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Lawyers for officers claim charges overblown

Police officers made honest mistakes in documenting overtime, lawyers say

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:02 a.m. HST, Nov 05, 2010



This story has been corrected.

Attorneys for five of seven Honolulu police officers charged with falsifying overtime reports say the accusations are off base.

Attorney Ken Shimozono called the cases "a misguided investigation that has taken on a life of its own."

Another lawyer, Jeff Hawk, said the prosecutor's office is "making a mountain out of a molehill."

The seven officers work for the Selective Enforcement Unit, part of the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division, which organizes roadblock checkpoints to catch motorists under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The cases apparently involve allegations that police reports reflected that two sergeants were at DUI checkpoints when they were not -- a ploy to gain overtime pay.

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, in a prepared statement, said he will not comment on the merits or specifics of any case outside of the courtroom.

"We will offer our evidence in court when and if the cases go to trial," he said.

Prosecutors say the actions of the officers resulted in the dismissal of more than 200 DUI cases.

Sgt. Aaron M. Bernal is charged with nine counts of tampering with a government record and two counts of third-degree theft. The theft counts, by definition, means between $100 and $300 was allegedly gained from each of the two theft charges.

"To suggest that he would jeopardize his career and his reputation for $100 or so is ludicrous," said Shimozono. "He has done nothing illegal and categorically denies the charges against him."

He said Bernal is a respected and highly decorated veteran officer.

Richard Wurdeman, who represents Sgt. Duke Zoller, said the allegations do not add up.

"It's absurd for the state to think that they're going to go out of their way on these two incidents on overtime issues dealing with roughly a couple hundred dollars each incident," Wurdeman said.

Zoller, who is charged with two counts of second-degree theft and five counts of tampering with a government record, did work on the evenings in question, Wurdeman said.

Hawk said his client, officer Michael Krekel, who is charged with two counts of tampering with a government document, has a spotless record.

"The tampering that they are accusing him of is basically filing a report with a mistake in it, and the mistake that Mike Krekel made was he simply said 'refer to this other officer's report.'"

It was a simple mistake done without criminal intent or thought of personal gain, Hawk said.

"They're saying my client somehow engaged in some kind of fraud," he said. "But he basically cuts and pastes his reports. He takes a report from three weeks ago, puts in the relevant facts. Change it around a little bit, sign off on it and hand it in."

Police officers often make mistakes on their police reports, he said.

"They're doing a hell of a job out there, but they're turning in reports left and right," he said. "They're swamped in paperwork, and they're doing it as fast as they can, but it's not criminal."

Krekel has been part of 600 DUI arrests over the course of his career, he said.

"Two mistakes out of 600 hardly shows a pattern of misconduct," said Hawk.

Walter Rodby, attorney for officer Patrick Bugarin, also said his client did not intentionally submit false reports. If he made mistakes, it was not with malice or criminal intent, he added.

Bugarin is charged with three counts of tampering with a government record.

"One thing I think people need to understand is that this is a man that submitted hundreds if not a thousand reports over this time frame, and three of them had wrong information," Rodby said.

Thomas Otake, attorney for officer Leighton Kato, said an entire group that routinely worked together was targeted unfairly. Kato is charged with three counts of tampering with a government record.

"I think there will be evidence to show that the sergeants were there on some of those occasions and there was no malicious or intentional acts done by the other officers to say they were there when they weren't," Kato said.

The two others involved are officers Christopher Bugarin and Brian Morris, each charged with two counts of tampering with a government record.

All but Morris made their initial appearance in District Court last week and entered not-guilty pleas. Morris is scheduled to appear Nov. 18.

Deputy Chief Randy Macadangdang, in a prepared statement, said HPD is continuing its own internal investigation.

"The department takes the allegations seriously, and we will wait for the court's decision," Macadangdang said. "We hold our officers to a high standard and expect them to be honest and truthful at all times."

The seven officers have been reassigned to restrictive duties in other divisions and been tripped of their police powers pending the results of the investigation.

Traffic Division Maj. Thomas Nitta, in his only comments about the allegations, said the seven officers are among 16 officers in the Special Enforcement Unit. They have not been replaced, but their duties have been picked up by those remaining, he said.

Both third-degree theft and tampering with a government record are misdemeanors.

CORRECTION

» Attorney Ken Shimozono described charges of wrongdoing by his client and other Honolulu police officers as "a misguided investigation that has taken on a life of its own." Jeff Hawk, an attorney for another officer, said the prosecutor's office is "making a mountain out of a molehill." The attributions for the two quotes were transposed.

 






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