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Officer cleared in overtime case

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A second Honolulu police officer accused in an overtime abuse scandal involving a DUI roadblock team was found not guilty yesterday by a Circuit Court jury.

Officer Michael Krekel, 43, was found not guilty of two counts of criminal tampering with government records. An eight-woman, four-man jury took less than a half-hour to decide the fate of Krekel, an HPD officer for 12 years.

The charges are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Last week, officer Leighton Kato was found not guilty of tampering with a government record and being an accomplice to third-degree theft. The jury in that case also took less than an hour to agree on the verdict.

Krekel and Kato are among seven HPD officers from the Traffic Division’s Selective Enforcement Unit who were charged in the case. Prosecutors allege Sgts. Aaron Bernal and Duke Zoller benefited financially from reports filed by all seven claiming falsely that the two were at DUI checkpoints when they were not.

Prosecutors said the false reports entitled the sergeants to be subpoenaed to appear at court proceedings stemming from arrests on those evenings and to claim overtime for the court appearances. They did not claim overtime for showing up at checkpoints on the nights of the arrests — when they were not working.

Trial for Bernal and Zoller, as well as officers Christopher Bugarin and Patrick Bugarin, is scheduled to begin the week of May 23.

In the case against Krekel, prosecutors charged that he signed off on reports that claimed Zoller and Bernal showed up at drunken-driving checkpoints on Nov. 28, 2009, and Jan. 15, 2010, respectively. Under direct questioning, Krekel denied being directed to file false reports.

Deputy Prosecutor Peter Marrack provided attendance, mileage and police radio reports indicating that Bernal and Zoller did not work the nights cited in the charges.

"Just about all the evidence is on one side," Marrack said.

In his closing argument, Marrack argued that Krekel must have noticed that the sergeants were missing in the squad room before or after the roadblocks or at the roadblocks themselves.

Neither Krekel nor his attorney, Jeffrey Hawk, disputed that inaccurate reports were filed. But Hawk, in his closing arguments, said any false reports were inadvertent and that Marrack had not offered proof Krekel submitted false reports knowingly.

"Sure, the reports are false," Hawk told jurors. "But did he know they were false? No." Hawk argued that Krekel relied on reports purportedly filed by his superiors and that he had no reason to believe they were false.

Marrack declined to comment after the verdict, noting that four other defendants in the case have yet to be tried.

Hawk said Krekel, who was transferred to the Windward patrol district last year before the tampering charges came to light, is looking forward to regaining his badge and gun and returning to regular duty.

"He has dedicated his life to protecting the community, and he is looking forward to going back to doing that," Hawk said.

A seventh officer, Brian Morris, pleaded guilty in Honolulu District Court in March to tampering with a government record.

He is awaiting sentencing but asked the court to grant him a deferral of his guilty plea, which would give him a chance to clear his record.

The city Police Commission agreed to have the city pay for the attorneys’ fees for the cases against Krekel and Kato after they argued the charges stemmed from their regular HPD duties. The other five HPD officers in the case also sought legal fees but were denied.

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