POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 5, 2011
The first of the seven police officers facing criminal charges for allegedly falsifying reports of DUI roadblock arrests went on trial yesterday in Circuit Court.
Officer Leighton Kato faces one count of tampering with a government record and two counts of being an accomplice to third-degree theft. All of the charges are misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,000 fine.
Deputy City Prosecutor Peter Marrack said in his opening statements yesterday that Kato stated in his report of a Nov. 29, 2009, DUI arrest that his supervisor, Sgt. Duke Zoller, was present when Zoller was not. That allowed Zoller to later claim overtime as a witness on two occasions, Marrack said.
Marrack had earlier said in a pretrial hearing that Zoller was in Las Vegas on Nov. 29, 2009.
The prosecutor has said Zoller was the only one of the seven police officers to claim overtime he didn't deserve. Trial evidence presented yesterday said the total amount of improperly claimed overtime was six hours — three hours on each of two occasions.
Zoller claimed overtime on Jan. 14, 2010, to appear as a witness in the DUI defendant's license revocation hearing at the State Administrative Drivers License Revocation Office and on Feb. 2, 2010, for the defendant's DUI trial at Ho-nolulu District Court. The defendant pleaded guilty on Feb. 2 before trial.
The Honolulu Prosecutor's Office said it later dismissed more than 200 DUI cases connected with the seven officers.
Kato's lawyer Thomas Otake said Kato said in his report that Zoller was present because he received a report from Sgt. Aaron Bernal and one attributed to Zoller stating that Zoller was at the roadblock.
"When he put Zoller's name in the report, he had a good-faith belief Zoller was there based on the information given to him by his co-workers," Otake said.
Bernal is facing nine counts of tampering and, like Kato, two counts of being an accomplice to third-degree theft.
Zoller, Bernal and three other members of the Traffic Division's Selective Enforcement Unit are scheduled to go to trial later this month.
The seventh officer, Brian Morris, pleaded guilty in Honolulu District Court in March to tampering with a government record. He is asking the judge to grant him a deferral of his guilty plea and the opportunity to clear the charge from his criminal record. The judge will decide whether to sentence Morris or grant him a deferral in September.
HPD generated 638 pages of transcripts of radio communications of the seven officers on the dates they are charged with falsifying arrest reports.
Circuit Judge Edward H. Kubo Jr. ruled the prosecutor cannot use the transcripts in Kato's trial because Kato's lawyer received them just last week.
Marrack said he received them from HPD last week and immediately turned copies over to Otake.