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Ex-officer’s defense begins to lay out its case

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Jody Buddemeyer appears Wednesday in Kona Circuit Court with his attorney, Brian De Lima.

KEALAKEKUA — A court-appointed doctor testified that a former Hawaii County police officer suffered from a shift-work sleep disorder the morning he is accused of fatally striking a bicyclist with his car in March 2015.

The defense for Jody Buddemeyer began presenting its case in Kona Circuit Court this week. On Wednesday, defense counsel Brian De Lima called three doctors to the stand, who were court-appointed to interview his client to determine if he was penally responsible for the alleged crime.

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All three testified Buddemeyer was fit to proceed after interviewing the defendant in February 2017. However, the three doctors unanimously and independently determined the former officer’s mental state at the time of the crash was significantly impaired because of to an acute stress reaction.

Buddemeyer is charged with negligent homicide, tampering with physical evidence and false reporting to law enforcement in connection with the death of cyclist Jeffrey Surnow. Buddemeyer allegedly struck Surnow with his police subsidized vehicle in the early morning hours of March 1, 2015.

All doctors reviewed additional police reports and medical reports at the office for Probation Services Division. Psychologist Frederick Manke was one of the doctors who reviewed the reports and interviewed the defendant.

“I determined Mr. Buddemeyer suffered acute stress disorder with dissociative symptoms,” Manke said.

Manke explained to the court that Buddemeyer was a high-functioning individual who was sleep deprived.

Psychiatrist Henry H. Yang testified that Buddemeyer described what his work schedule was and how the Hawaii Police Department regularly requires officers to work double backs at the end of each month.

On Feb. 28, 2015, Buddemeyer worked 6:45 a.m.-3:45 p.m. He returned to work about seven hours later at 10:30 p.m.

When De Lima asked Yang his opinion about the charge of negligent homicide against Buddemeyer, Yang told the court it was his opinion that the defendant suffered from a shift-work sleep disorder.

Yang explained the disorder occurs when shift work interferes with an individual’s normal time of sleep. The disorder is recognized by the American Medical Association and is treated by medical insurance.

Yang added Buddemeyer suffered a neurocognitive disorder based on the cognitive disruption at the time of the accident.

“It was my opinion that his perception and attention wasn’t there at the time of the accident,” Yang testified. “His actions were impaired because of the sleep disorder.”

Yang also was asked about his opinion on the two other charges lodged against Buddemeyer.

“In my opinion, his capacity was significantly impaired by an acute stress reaction to the accident,” Yang testified.

During cross-examination by Deputy Prosecutor Kauanoe Jackson, Yang stated he didn’t remember reviewing DVDs of officer interviews and did not interview the responding officers themselves.

Yang reiterated he relied on officer statements provided.

When asked about Buddemeyer’s work schedule, Yang testified he had not reviewed it.

Jackson asked Yang if he knew the defendant had Feb. 25-26 off and called in sick Feb. 27, prior to his double-back shift.

Yang was unaware. However, he testified it would not have impacted his opinion because of the fact that the sleep disorder occurs over a period of time.

“It’s the change in shift over the course of two years,” Yang said.

He added the disorder doesn’t affect all officers.

Jackson asked Yang if he conducted any further sleep studies and reviewed brain activity to support the sleep disorder.

Yang had not.

“Much of what you relied on was what the defendant self-reported on his sleep schedule,” Jackson clarified with Yang.

The doctor agreed, as well as other reasons.

In regard to the evidence tampering and false statements to police, Yang testified he had not listened to the dispatch call when the crash was called in.

He also admitted to not reviewing all the property evidence receipts connected with the incident.

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The defense continues its case today.

Email Tiffany DeMasters at tdemasters@westhawaiitoday.com.

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