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First, the story went, Christopher Deedy fought with Kollin Elderts at a Waikiki nightspot before following him to McDonald’s and shooting him in cold blood.
That was according to Michael Green, an attorney representing Elderts’ family in a civil lawsuit. But it turned out to be patently false.
A second version of events — attributed to anonymous sources and later retracted by the Hawaii Reporter — had Elderts pulling a knife and threatening the federal agent, forcing him to fire in self-defense.
These are just some of the rumors that have swirled in the two weeks since the shooting. The government — specifically the Honolulu Police Department and Honolulu prosecutor‘s office — have remained silent. The official version of events and alleged facts of the case are under wraps.
And it’s going to stay that way for a while.
In many circumstances, some basic facts about the case would have already emerged in the public sphere.
For example, if prosecutors had wanted to keep Deedy in custody until his first court appearance, they would have needed to file a document called a Judicial Determination of Probable Cause (JDPC). The purpose of a JDPC is to give a judge enough details to justify keeping a person behind bars even though they’ve yet to be proven guilty or even face charges.
The facts in the JDPC, including things like the written statement of the first police officer to arrive on the scene, would have become public as part of court records.
But because Deedy posted $250,000 bail early on the morning of Nov. 7, the JDPC became a moot point. Prosecutors had it ready to go, and even brought it to the District Court, but it was not accepted because Deedy was no longer in custody.
“It’s not filed with the court,” judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa told Civil Beat Friday. “If it was, it would be a public document that you could go down to the courthouse and look at it.”
The document would have become public had it been accepted by the court, but neither the police nor the prosecutor will release it because, they say, it’s not a public document.
“The Judicial Determination of Probable Cause is prepared strictly as a court document and intended solely for that purpose,” Dave Koga, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, told Civil Beat in an email. “Prosecuting Attorney Keith M. Kaneshiro believes that independent release of the JDPC after the court has determined it is not relevant to this case could be interpreted as an attempt by the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney to generate unauthorized pretrial publicity.
“This would be a violation of the code of professional responsibility.”
Deputy Chief of Disciplinary Counsel Charlene Norris told Civil Beat she couldn’t answer specific questions about the ethical rules and guidelines governing the prosecutor’s decision. Office of Disciplinary Counsel advice is reserved for licensed attorneys. She merely pointed to Rule 3.8 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Beyond the JDPC, a preliminary hearing in court could have provided some basic facts about the case. In such hearings, prosecutors need to give District Court judges enough evidence to prove that a case belongs in Circuit Court.
But Kaneshiro elected to instead pursue a grand jury indictment, which was returned Wednesday. That negated the need for a preliminary hearing in a public courtroom. Instead, the evidence presented to the grand jury will remain sealed.
The accusations actually available to the public are vague. The HPD provided a brief summary of the case that answers the who, what and where questions, but leaves much to be desired on why and how.
On Saturday, November 5, at approximately 2:45 a.m., Honolulu police officers responded to a shooting at the McDonald’s on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki. Two males got into an argument which escalated into a physical confrontation that ended with the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old male from Kailua. Detectives arrested a 27-year-old male who was later identified as an off-duty federal agent. The suspect was charged with second degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Bail was set by a judge at $250,000.
The indictment returned by the grand jury is even lighter on details.
It merely lists the two charges Deedy faces, the sections of the Hawaii Revised Statutes he’s alleged to have violated, and the dates of those alleged violations. It’s just over two pages, double-spaced.
Asked for more details Friday, HPD spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter responded with the brief summary above and added the following: “We ask for the public’s patience to wait for the facts and circumstances of this case to come out in court.”
On Friday, the HPD also rejected three document requests that had been filed by Civil Beat.
It said police reports, witness statements and surveillance videos relating to the shooting were exempt from the state’s public records law because disclosing them would intefere with the ongoing murder investigation.
Civil Beat has also requested the 911 tapes from the incident.
Deedy’s next court appearance is scheduled for Monday morning, but it’s not going to shed any light on what happened early on the morning of Nov. 5. It’s an arraignment: He’ll be read the charges, he’ll enter pleas of guilty or not guilty, and status or trial dates will be scheduled.
It could be many months or even a year until the trial actually begins, according to Brook Hart, Deedy’s attorney. Discovery will be shared between the defense and the prosecution as soon as 10 days from Monday’s appearance, but those materials won’t be public documents, Hart said.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate for the police or prosecutor to put discovery out to the public,” he said, calling the government’s handling of the case so far “responsible.”
Pretrial motions might reveal some scant details, he said, but the government’s goal should be to keep things quiet until trial so as to avoid tainting the potential jury pool. He said that to have the facts of the case “trumpeted” in the media would compromise the state’s ability to find impartial, unbiased jurors.
“Trying the case in the media is not appropriate,” Hart said.
That concern is heightened in cases of great public interest, including the alleged murder of a 23-year-old local in a public place by a federal agent in town for APEC.