LIHUE — Records related to an internal police investigation could be used to determine the credibility of officers set to testify in the upcoming trial of a man accused of killing a 19-year-old Kapaa woman in a hit-and-run accident two years ago.
Cody Safadago is scheduled to stand trial next month for the death of Kayla-Huddy Lemn when he allegedly swerved onto the wrong side of the road while driving drunk in a stolen pickup truck.
The 48-year-old one-time resident of Washington state, who was homeless in Kekaha at the time of his arrest on April 27, 2017, faces nine counts related to the incident and a potential life sentence if convicted.
On Tuesday, Fifth Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano ruled to allow testimony and confidential police documents detailing the findings of a recently-closed internal investigation into allegations that several officers were involved in cheating on a test and later covering it up.
County prosecutors recently turned over hundreds of pages of Kauai Police Department documents pertaining to the investigation after Valenciano ordered them to be submitted for a confidential review. The records remain under a court-ordered seal.
But when Safadago’s case goes to trial — jury selection is scheduled to begin Aug. 12 — everything submitted as evidence will become public record.
Last week, prosecutors filed a motion, asking the court to prohibit Safadago, his attorney or the witnesses “from any mention of, or comment on, during any phase of the trial the KPD Investigation into the officers of the Traffic Safety Unit.”
“Because no allegations of untruthfulness were sustained as to the relevant officers in this case the state asserts that this is an improper line of inquiry as it would not be relevant to a trait of credibility,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sean Van Demark wrote in the memo.
County and KPD officials have declined to comment on the matter.
Judge Valenciano denied the prosecution’s request to keep the investigation out of the trial, ruling that a select portion of the records will be admissible as evidence because they could provide relevant information to jurors who will be tasked with determining the credibility of witnesses.
Three KPD officers — Shawn Hanna, Joseph Himongala and Arthur Caberto — are on the state’s list of potential witnesses for Safadago’s trial.
After the hearing, defense attorney Emmanuel Guerrero would not comment on the nature of the findings of the investigation — attorneys on both sides were ordered by the judge not to discuss the matter with the public — but when asked how much of KPD records would be admitted into evidence, he said, “not all of them, but enough.”
For the first 18 months of the case, pretrial litigation was focused primarily on resolving attempts by Safadago’s previous defense attorneys — several lawyers represented him before Guerrero was appointed to the case last year — to have the case dismissed.
A panel of psychiatrists found Safadago fit to proceed a few months after his arrest. A year later, the judge presiding over the case denied his lawyer’s motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that prosecutors improperly influenced the grand jury by presenting hearsay evidence.
Then, in December 2018, Guerrero got a letter from the Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, stating that KPD had launched an investigation concerning officers involved in handling Safadago’s case.
The letter did not provide details regarding the nature of the allegations, but said 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 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.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com