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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Top HPD officers charged with felony theft of food

By David Waite and Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writers

Two high-ranking Honolulu police officers were indicted by an O'ahu grand jury yesterday on felony theft charges of diverting food intended for prisoners at the main station and using it instead to feed police officers.

Assistant Chief Rafael Fajardo Jr., 59, the highest ranking police officer ever indicted in Honolulu, and Maj. Jeffrey Owens, 50, head of the Traffic Division, were each indicted on a charge of second-degree theft.

The charge carries a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Police Chief Lee Donohue said he would immediately relieve both officers of their police powers and command responsibilities. They will be assigned to desk jobs while the investigation continues.

Donohue said that it was a "sad day" for his department but that Fajardo and Owens should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

"It hurts," Donohue said when asked for his personal reaction to the indictments.

Fajardo and Owens could not be reached for comment. Bench warrants were issued for their arrest. The two will be released on their own recognizance after being booked on the charges.

Police internal affairs investigators confirmed last year that they were investigating the food service operations at the main police station on Beretania Street. But the indictment against the high-ranking and longtime officers still stunned some of the rank and file.

Fajardo, one of six assistant police chiefs, heads the Special Field Operations Bureau, which consists of the traffic, central receiving and specialized services or SWAT divisions. The central receiving division maintains the police cellblock where prisoners are held and served meals.

Fajardo has worked in the department for 36 years; Owens, for 28 years.

Meals for detainees were purchased from outside vendors who prepared them, but investigators found that in some cases food such as turkey, steak or lamb that had been ordered ostensibly for inmates was served instead to a small number of police officers. In addition, the officers who were privy to the special food service could also get made-to-order breakfasts, investigators said.

Donohue said the police department has an annual budget of $55,000 to feed an average of 60 prisoners a day during the week and 100 a day on weekends.

Donohue confirmed that he, former Chief Michael Nakamura and others had sometimes eaten the food in question. But Donohue, who was appointed chief in 1998, said he had no idea the money used to purchase the food had been meant to buy food for prisoners.

He declined to say where he believed the food had come from or how often he had eaten it. He also declined to comment on reports that he had frequently eaten breakfasts purchased with the money in question and that officers had violated fire codes by holding barbecues in the police garage.

"That's all part of the investigation," he said.

Retired Maj. Gordon Young told reporters outside the grand jury room at the Circuit Court building yesterday that he had requested the investigation, which was headed by Maj. Daniel Hanagami.

City Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee, who presented the case to the grand jury, said 27 witnesses were called to provide testimony. A charge of second-degree theft would entail a stolen amount of more than $300, but Lee declined to place a value on the diverted food or say whether the two indicted officers benefited financially from the "misappropriated food." The indictment covers the period from July 16, 1995, to Sept. 30, 2000, Lee said.

He said he expects others, who are cooperating with a continuing investigation, to be charged later.

Detective Alex Garcia, chairman of the O'ahu chapter of the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers, said the indictments were met with mixed feelings.

"It's good news that no one's immune to the justice system, that everyone's accountable to someone, but it's an embarrassment to the department and Chief Lee Donohue's administration," he said. "It's unfortunate this happened."

The accused officers are not members of the union because of their high rank. Garcia said he was "very disappointed" with the way Donohue kept them on duty while the internal affairs investigation was under way.

"If it was any other officer under investigation, he would have been relieved of duties or moved to another assignment, but in this case they allowed these guys to continue functioning up until the indictment," Garcia said. "It's indicative of how administrations have worked for years."

Donohue said he had handled it properly.

"We addressed it in the best way we know how," he said.

Garcia said that the investigation of the two officers was rather common knowledge within the department and that many officers wondered what the outcome would be.

"We knew it was coming but didn't know the extent of it," he said. "I've heard mixed reactions from a lot of people I've talked to. One is that they didn't expect the top ranks to be indicted, and the other is that they wanted them to be indicted — that if they were involved they shouldn't get away with it. If bottom level guys got arrested, why not top guys?"

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030 and Johnny Brannon at 535-2431 or jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com