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County to pay for ex-officer’s defense in fatal crash

Updated: 
March 19, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii County Police Commission voted unanimously to approve a request for legal counsel for a former Hawaii County police officer charged with fatally striking a bicyclist.

Jody Buddemeyer, of Pahoa, pleaded not guilty in October to charges of first-degree negligent homicide, tampering with physical evidence and making a false report to law enforcement in connection with the March 1, 2015, crash that killed Jeffrey Surnow, a 69-year-old visitor from Michigan.

The police commission approved the request Friday during its monthly meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

“If they’re on duty they should be represented,” said Keith Morioka, chairman of the commission. “It is not our job to decide whether or not someone is guilty.”

State law requires the county to pay for representation for officers prosecuted for a crime or sued in a civil action for acts done in the performance of the officer’s duty as a police officer. But it also gives the police commissions authority to determine whether the act was done “in the performance of the police officer’s duty.”

Police say Buddemeyer was operating a subsidized patrol car eastbound and was on-duty when his vehicle struck and killed Surnow, of West Bloomfield Hills, Mich., as he rode his bicycle east up Waikoloa Road. The collision, which Buddemeyer reported at 6:25 a.m., occurred near mile marker 11.

A police misconduct report, which does not include names, said an officer was terminated in 2015 for tampering with the scene after being involved in a traffic fatality. Buddemeyer is no longer on the department’s sworn personnel list.

First responders with the Hawaii Fire Department initially reported the incident as a hit-and-run after Surnow was found lying face down near a “severely damaged” bicycle on the road’s shoulder. They noted he had died prior to their arrival.

A jury trial for Buddemeyer, who is represented by Hilo attorney Brian De Lima, is scheduled for May 30.

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