KAILUA-KONA — The state attorney general continues to provide no updates or shed further light on the status of a case involving stolen drug evidence stored by the Hawaii Police Department.
“I apologize but I do not have any further information regarding this matter,” wrote Dana Viola, first deputy attorney general, in an email Thursday.
It’s been four months since information was released about a police investigation into a former Hawaii County police detective for reportedly stealing drug evidence from the Hilo evidence storage facility. The initial investigation began last fall when cocaine, originally recovered in 2014, was found to be lighter than reported during its initial recovery. The discrepancy was discovered when the evidence was being weighed in preparation to use a small quantity of the cocaine for training purposes.
The investigation quickly identified a sworn employee as being a person of interest for the missing portions of the drug, police said. The employee was immediately placed on administrative leave without pay and subsequent audits of other evidence recovered by the officer revealed other anomalies, which revealed cases where there was a weight discrepancy in marijuana concentrate (hashish) from two separate investigations.
The detective retired before the completion of the investigation and is no longer an employee with the county. The case was formally referred to the Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney on March 2 for review of possible charges.
Because no arrest has been made in the case, Big Island newspapers have been unable to confirm or report the identity of the former police officer. The newspapers, however, have confirmed that the sworn employee served about 26 years with the department.
Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth, after reviewing the pages-long investigation and determining it would be a conflict of interest for his office to prosecute, forwarded the case to the state AG’s office. That office determines whether the case will be handled in house or assigned to another county prosecutor’s office, which is common practice.
“We’re referring it to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or conflicts,” Roth said in March.
Since that time, the newspapers have been unable to confirm if the AG’s office is reviewing the case. After several calls during the past four months, the office gives the same answer: “the case is not in our system.”
Since the case was moved out of Hawaii County, Mayor Harry Kim said the county’s job is finished. After its referral to the attorney general’s office, he added, four months of no updates is not unusual.
“It’s almost par for the course,” Kim said.
While the theft is disconcerting, Kim said, it could happen anywhere.
“This is internal,” he said. “It does happen no matter what you do.”
The case also drew concern from the Hawaii County Police Commission.
Peter Hendricks, Police Commission chairman, said Thursday that during the panel’s most recent meeting, Police Chief Paul Ferreira gave members an update during executive session.
“We didn’t find out anything new, to tell you the truth,” Hendricks said. “Everyone’s being really tight-lipped.”
The chairman said this is a case where the officer retired before the investigation was complete, but the commission will not let it go.
“We’re not gonna sleep on this one, ’cause it’s a matter of real concern,” Hendricks said about the case. “Be assured we’re not gonna drop it or forget it.”
While Ferreira was unable to talk about the case since it now is in the hands of prosecutors, he detailed changes the department made since the reported theft was discovered, which include additional audits to ensure no further incidents occur.
In an email Thursday, Ferreira said audits were done at the onset when the discrepancies were discovered, which involved inspecting and weighing similar types of evidence recovered by the officer being investigated as well as other officers within the division.
Random inspections of police evidence storage facilities also are conducted semi-annually and annually by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.
A change to procedures now requires that whenever an officer is withdrawing evidence for training, investigative or court purposes, the officer must first obtain authorization from their supervisor, who in turn transmits an electronic notification via the department’s Records Management System — to the Evidence Section of the district in which the evidence and property is located — authorizing the retrieval.
The notification must include the reason and the name of the person retrieving the evidence and property. For court purposes, the requester shall be the employee who is subpoenaed.