The Hawaii County prosecutor said he’s concerned about pretrial felony defendants being freed without cash bail or having their bail reduced because of COVID-19 concerns at Hawaii Community Correctional Center.
Kelden Waltjen pointed to several cases of individuals charged with felonies who were released and then were charged with committing other crimes.
“We obviously have public safety concerns when we’re arresting someone, charging them for felony offenses, (and) they make their initial appearance in District Court, and they’re granted supervised release or a large bail reduction,” Waltjen said last week. “The judges in District Court have been making findings of supervised release and/or bail reductions and actually specifically noting that it is because of COVID concerns.
“I know it’s been frustrating for the police, as well as for some of the deputies in our office.”
Two released who were arrested after allegedly reoffending in separate cases were 52-year-old Robert Domen and 34-year-old Jordan Kaneshiro, both of Pahoa.
Domen, according to Waltjen, was out after posting $75,000 bail in February on a first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug charge.
“That’s over an ounce of meth. That’s a Class A felony, so it’s serious,” Waltjen said.
Domen was again taken into custody after a traffic stop on Aug. 7 for illegally having blue lights, reserved for emergency vehicles only, on his Honda Civic. Domen was arrested for driving without a license, and a pat-down search found a bag containing almost 2 ounces of methamphetamine, according to court documents filed by police.
“And his bail got reduced to $12,000 from $53,000,” Waltjen said about Domen’s initial court appearance before Hilo District Judge Jeffrey Hawk.
Domen remained in custody at HCCC as of Friday.
Kaneshiro’s $120,000 bail for a first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug charge was reduced in May to $10,000 by Hilo Circuit Judge Peter Kubota. Kaneshiro was arrested July 21 on numerous new charges, including first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
His bail was set at $560,000 and he remains in custody at HCCC.
Domestic violence cases also are a concern, Waltjen said. One defendant, 51-year-old Richard Ganigan of Hilo, has several cases of TRO violations still pending going back to Aug. 28, 2020, with the most recent filed on July 27, which also included criminal property damage and resisting arrest.
He has a hearing scheduled for seven separate criminal cases, some with multiple charges, on Sept. 28, and remains in custody at HCCC on $38,000 bail.
Tara Okutsu, supervisor of the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Victim-Witness unit, said that for those accused of domestic violence, the criminal justice system is “basically just a revolving door.”
“You know, they’re just coming in and out,” Okutsu said. “And we’ve been just having to work with the victims and keep them up to date and informed of (the defendants’) custody status. We’re making sure their voices are heard throughout this process, addressing their concerns. …
“Absolutely, victims have been expressing fear and concerns for their safety, a fear of retaliation based on defendants reoffending after they’ve been released. You know, victims, they do everything they’re supposed to. They call the police. They cooperate with the criminal justice system. And they feel that they’re not being protected.”
Keith Shigetomi — a former private Honolulu defense counsel who became supervising attorney at the Office of the Public Defender in Hilo on July 1 — said he thinks judges have “been fairly reasonable in terms of addressing the bail issues” since he’s been here.
“I think they look at it based upon the person’s history, the charges that he has, and then they will also consider the fact that there is an outbreak (of COVID-19 cases), and it doesn’t seem to be abating at this point,” Shigetomi said. “I just had a client who was brought in last week and had contracted the virus while in prison. It’s still there.”
Asked about pretrial defendants reoffending after being released, Shigetomi replied, “I think those things happen, but I think the courts do the best they can with the information they have at the time.
“I have seen something that disturbs me. I’ve just learned that some of the judges have been imposing a vaccination requirement in order (for detainees) to be released from prison. And we’re going to challenge that, because I think that’s unconstitutional.”
Shigetomi pointed to the case of Erik Skillman, who’s facing a contempt of court charge in Hilo Family Court.
Court records state that on Aug. 4, Family Court Judge Darien Nagata ordered Skilman to receive at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot as a term of court-supervised release without monetary bail.
“That’s something that disturbs me,” Shigetomi said. “We’ve prepared a motion on that, but from what I’ve been told, it’s not just this case, it’s been ongoing. I just learned of it (Wednesday). … We’re certainly going to immediately challenge that.”
That motion was filed Friday.
As of Friday, there were two HCCC staff and no inmates with active COVID cases, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
The latest inmate population report on the DPS website, July 12, showed 262 inmates at HCCC, 56 more than the facility’s design capacity of 206 inmates. Twenty-six staff and 234 inmates had recovered from prior infections at the Hilo jail, according to DPS.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald