LIHUE — The Kauai Police Department conducted an investigation into allegations that a number of its officers were involved in cheating on a proficiency test and later covering it up.
The investigation was not completed for at least two months, and afterward, police refused to turn over the results to prosecutors until compelled to do so by a court order. Still, the hundreds of pages of documents related to the investigation remain sealed, and county officials will not comment on the matter.
In the last week, Fifth Circuit Judges Randal Valenciano and Kathleen Watanabe ruled that at least some of the documents detailing KPD’s internal investigation will be admissible as evidence in two separate, unrelated cases.
Whether the information will be publicly available anytime soon, however, remains an open question. Watanabe and Valenciano reviewed the KPD report submitted by prosecutors before ordering the documents to be sealed and instructing attorneys on both sides not to share them with any third party.
The court battle over information related to the internal police investigation began in December of last year, when the county Office of the Prosecuting Attorney sent a letter to a lawyer defending Cody Safadago, a Kauai man facing negligent manslaughter charges.
The letter stated that KPD had launched an investigation concerning officers involved in handling Safadago’s case but did not provide any details regarding the nature of the allegations, stating only that the investigation “concerns matters that may affect the credibility” of the following four KPD officers: Shawn Hanna, Jason Overmyer, Joseph Himongala and Arthur Caberto.
In February, prosecutors sent an almost identical letter to a defense attorney in a separate case, naming a another officer, Lt. Jon Takamura, and a third letter, sent last month, added a sixth name to the list of KPD officers involved, Isaiah Sarsona.
The third letter, dated May 2, was addressed to Honolulu attorney Michael Green, who represents Virgil Caday, a Kauai man facing charges related to a hit-and-run incident last year. That letter gave a brief description of the KPD investigation, saying the allegations involved whether Hanna gave Himongala a copy of a test before he took it and whether the other four officers “knew and covered it up.”
In a memo asking the court to compel prosecutors to release internal KPD documents, Green said the investigation involved “officers who were the subject of what appears to be crimes relating to their employment.”
According to Green’s memo, the information contained in the KPD’s report “may potentially affect whether the state will proceed to trial,” because the officers involved “are all potential witnesses in the Caday indictment, and their credibility is of paramount importance in resolving the case.”
In an interview last week Green said that if KPD officers were in fact caught cheating on the test, it could have wider implications as well, possibly undermining police investigations in other cases if their ethics are called into question.
The court battle over the KPD records has gone on now for over six months. Shortly after receiving the first letter in December, Safadago’s lawyer, Emmanuel Guerrero, filed a motion in court, asking Valenciano to force prosecutors to turn over documents related to the internal investigation.
For months, police ignored prosecutors’ requests. The letter sent by the prosecuting attorney’s office in December said it had asked police for the documents, but added, “to date, we have not received any.” Over two months later, prosecutors claimed police still refused to comply.
Prosecutors made some progress a short time later, after a judge ordered the release of certain records pertaining to the investigation, but the May 2 letter says despite requests for all police files on the matter, “KPD did not supply any such records.”
Court records give few clues about how the investigation was conducted or what it revealed. According to the minutes of a court hearing in February, Deputy County Prosecutor Peter Morimoto said a report of the investigation had been completed and was pending a determination to be made by the police chief at an administrative hearing to be held two weeks later.
The police department has declined to offer any information regarding the matter and was hesitant at first to even admit it existed. After repeated requests for a response to the allegations, a county spokesperson sent an email confirming an internal KPD investigation had been conducted, saying, “due to an ongoing personnel matter involved, we are unable to provide further details at this time.”
Unless the investigation documents are presented as evidence at trial, police may never have to disclose whether their officers were involved in a cheating scandal. Both cases are scheduled to go to trial in September.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.