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AG looking into conduct of officers involved in Red Jeep crash & investigation

By Troy Torres

From the onset of the Red Jeep scandal, Kandit has been less concerned with the role the Jeep driver played, and far more interested in the attempted cover up of the involvement of a passenger in that Jeep.

The internal affairs investigation into the conduct of police officers involved in the Jerry's Kitchen crash, the response to the crash, and the second investigation by police has been completed, and the attorney general now is weighing what to do.

"The Guam Police Department has completed its administrative investigation surrounding the auto crash that occurred on February 25, 2021, at the Jerry's Kitchen in Tamuning, involving a GPD employee and has closed its criminal investigation into the matter and has forwarded all criminal reports to the Office of the Attorney General," police chief Stephen Ignacio wrote to Kandit in response to a Sunshine request for documents pertaining to the case.

The crash occurred in the early morning hours of February 25. By 9 a.m. that day, in what appeared to be the fastest traffic investigation involving major property destruction, police spokesman Sgt. Paul Tapao released the following statement: "The case is classified as Auto Ran off Roadway no injuries NO DWI. Ran off road into parking lot and collided with door."

Days after the crash rumors began circulating that a Guam police officer, Joneen Terlaje, was a passenger in the Jeep, when it crashed into Jerry's Kitchen. Ms. Terlaje is the grand daughter of Sen. Jose "Pedo" Terlaje, who chairs the committee with oversight of the GPD. Kandit asked the senator's office the weekend after the crash whether the rumors were true.

His assistant, Chris Carillo, told Kandit that Ms. Terlaje was NOT one of the passengers in the crash.

Kandit followed up with this question: "Was she present at the scene?"

"I just spoke with her and I can confirm that she got a call that a friend of hers was in an accident and she went to the scene to make sure her friend was not injured," Mr. Carillo said about Ms. Terlaje.

Mr. Carillo also provided an alibi for Ms. Terlaje's whereabouts on that night. "She was driving her Jeep that night, I seen her," he said, informing Kandit that Ms. Terlaje's Jeep is gray, not red.

Following intense criticism from both the public and the media, GPD was forced to admit that the police officer who responded to the scene, Chris Champion, did not conduct any sobriety tests. The crash report, which was withheld by GPD but leaked to the media, showed Champion marked up a simple citation for the incident. Witnesses said the official police account differed greatly from what actually happened.

Asked whether he believed the reports coming out of his police department, chief Ignacio said he had no reason to suspect his officers had done anything wrong. Despite his insistence, the public confidence in his agency waned, and Ignacio was forced to call for a second investigation.

Following weeks of investigation by the GPD Highway Division, chief Ignacio announced that his agency had found no wrongdoing on the part of his officers, and that its criminal investigation was forwarded to the office of Attorney General Leevin Camacho.

Within days, Mr. Camacho's investigators did what GPD detectives did not: pull surveillance from the crash, find out where the Jeep's occupants came from, and force that bar to turn over receipts and video footage of what happened before they got into that Jeep.

The evidence was telling. According to the OAG, the occupants, including the driver, were seen drinking several rounds of alcoholic beverages in a short period of time; the receipts allegedly confirm the purchases of alcohol. Statements from witnesses include the behavior of the women and an account that two hours after the driver was released, she was so inebriated she could barely walk.

Following the release of the investigation findings and the charging of the Jeep driver, Kandit asked GPD whether this new information would lead to administrative and criminal investigations into Officer Joneen Terlaje, Officer Chris Champion, and those detectives who claimed to have thoroughly investigated the case prior to OAG involvement.

That was when chief Ignacio said that, based on the new information from the attorney general, an internal affairs case had been opened.

That case now is closed. Its findings, along with the findings of a criminal investigation have been forwarded to the attorney general. GPD is referring any further questions on the matter to the OAG.

Mr. Camacho's spokeswoman, Carlina Charfauros, confirmed her office has received GPD's findings, and that the case remains under review by prosecutors.

"We received the report in its entirety at the onset and used when charging the driver," Ms. Charfauros said. "There have not been any additional reports sent our way. It is still an open matter with our office."

Kandit followed up with this question: "Is the OAG looking at the involvement of any of the officers in the case (whether the officer who was in the crash, the responding officer, the reporting officer, or the highway investigators) for any wrongdoing?"

"This was and is part of the investigative process, yes," Ms. Charfauros replied.

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