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Defense attorney Jonathan Burge wants to put Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro on the witness stand to find out what he knows about city cops issuing fake speeding tickets.
It’s an uncommon legal maneuver, but Burge is trying to get to the bottom of questions raised by Kaneshiro’s own public statements about an alleged “ghost ticket” scandal that might be occurring within the Honolulu Police Department.
“It’s not a small step, and I recognize that, to subpoena the prosecutor,” Burge said. But “apparently Kaneshiro knows something that nobody else does.”
Burge’s case involves a client who was arrested for speeding and driving under the influence in December 2016. According to court records, Honolulu Police Officer Ty Ah Nee, who works in the traffic division, was the arresting officer.
Burge wants to know if Ah Nee has a history of lying or falsification of records, something that would diminish his credibility in the courtroom.
Prosecutors are required to turn over that kind of information to the defense because it’s considered exculpatory evidence that could be used for the defendant’s case.
Specifically, Burge wants to put Kaneshiro on the witness stand so he can answer questions about whether Ah Nee is himself under investigation for issuing fake speeding tickets as part of an alleged scheme to collect more overtime pay.
Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, said it’s understandable that Burge wants to question Kaneshiro under oath, especially given his statements to the press in recent months.
“It’s not common,” Lawson said. “But we’re not talking about a common case, and we’re not talking about common circumstances.”
The allegations involving Ah Nee stem from Kaneshiro’s defense of Katherine Kealoha, who is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for public corruption and abuse of power along with her husband, Louis Kealoha, who is the former head of HPD.
A federal grand jury has been investigating whether Katherine Kealoha lied to a judge in 2014 to get a speeding ticket dismissed for an acquaintance, according to witnesses who have been called before the grand jury.
That speeding ticket was issued by Ah Nee. But Kealoha told a traffic court judge that the man who was ticketed, Adam Wong, was actually being impersonated by a “career criminal” who was in possession of Wong’s truck.
When federal investigators began looking into the speeding ticket, Kaneshiro told Civil Beat and other media that he ordered the dismissal as part of a “ghost ticket” investigation that involved several officers.
In an interview with Civil Beat, he described Wong as a victim of the scheme.
“It’s not a pervasive problem, but it’s a problem that needed to be addressed,” Kaneshiro said at the time. “We know it happened in this particular case and we know that there might be one or two other cases.”
The question now is whether Kaneshiro’s statements hold any merit.
The Honolulu Police Department and Honolulu Police Commission, which investigates citizen complaints of officer misconduct, have already said in court records that Ah Nee has done nothing wrong.
Even First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher D.W. Young has acknowledged in court documents that his office doesn’t have any documents indicating there have been any investigations into Ah Nee.
But Burge said Young’s statements aren’t enough. He needs to know if Kaneshiro himself might have information that would undermine Ah Nee’s credibility, even if it hasn’t been shared with other people in his office.
“Kaneshiro, he’s the man, and he needs to answer one way or another,” Burge said. “I know it’s a big step, and I’m not out to harass the prosecutor’s office. I’m out to see if it’s true or not.”
A hearing is scheduled for May 15. Burge said he plans to issue a subpoena to Kaneshiro before the hearing.