Police food-scam case challenged
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
One of two high-ranking Honolulu Police Department officials indicted on a first-degree theft charge in connection with the alleged food scam at the police cellblock is asking to have the case against him thrown out on grounds of what he claims was prosecutor misconduct.
In a request filed with Circuit Court on Wednesday, Honolulu attorney Darwin Ching, who represents Maj. Jeffrey Owens, alleges that city deputy prosecutor Randal Lee deliberately misled and confused members of an Oahu grand jury when presenting the case to them Aug. 21 in hopes of obtaining an indictment.
Lee said he has done nothing improper in handling the case.
A hearing on Ching's dismissal motion is set for Feb. 12.
Owens and Assistant Police Chief Rafael Fajardo were indicted Aug. 23, each on a single count of first-degree theft, for allegedly using public money to buy unauthorized meals for fellow officers instead of using the money to feed prisoners. Both have pleaded not guilty and the case is scheduled to go to trial in March, although it will likely be delayed.
In the court papers filed Wednesday, Ching said that unlike two former HPD food service workers who pleaded "to theft charges where they stole food for their own personal use and took it home," no similar allegation is made against Owens.
Ching said Owens is not accused of stealing money or food from the department for his use but of improperly using the food ostensibly purchased for prisoners to prepare meals for the officers under his command.
Owens "has consistently stated to different witnesses in this case that the food was to improve morale of his men who had previously been subject to numerous civil rights charges and lawsuits," the lawyer said.
Ching said Owens had "authority and discretion" over the money allocated to the HPD division he headed, whose tasks included buying meals for prisoners housed in the cellblock at the main police station on Beretania Street.
Lee's failure to tell the grand jury that Owens had the authority to reallocate money within the division was an example of Lee's alleged prosecutorial misconduct, Ching said.
Late yesterday afternoon, Lee said he had just received a copy of Ching's dismissal request and hadn't had a chance to review it fully.
"But I am pretty confident that everything we have done in the case has been aboveboard and within the requirements of the law," Lee said.