Systemic problems under investigation after accused murderer's escape

Systemic problems under investigation after accused murderer's escape

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Public Safety Director Ted Sakai said Thursday that improvements are under way or being considered following the numerous errors that resulted in a murder suspect's escape from circuit court Wednesday.

While police and sheriffs deputies notified Voyager Academy school across the street within minutes of the escape Wednesday, it took an hour and a half before the Public Safety Department sent out a news release notifying the public that a murder suspect Teddy Munet had escaped Wednesday morning.

"We're a little embarrassed that we did not notify everybody in the vicinity who should have been notified immediately of what had happened," Sakai told a news conference Thursday afternoon.

As a result, the department plans to set up a Nixle alert system so schools, businesses and residents near prison facilities and the courts can get instant electronic notification of an escape or incident.

The department is also talking to the state Judiciary, which owns and runs the circuit court building, about making improvements to the prisoner drop-off area at circuit court, such as the potential addition of a second fenced gate at the street entrance.

"We really don't know.  We're going to have to balance the effectiveness of such an improvement versus the cost," Sakai said.

There was just one sheriff at the cell block yesterday and eight prison guards to handle the 30 to forty inmates there, Sakai said.

The public safety department is asking state lawmakers for $1.3 million over two years to hire 16 more sheriffs for court buildings, enough for a sheriff in every courtroom.

"It would take a while to get the sheriffs on board because the sheriffs training is extensive.  But we do know we need sheriffs throughout the state," Sakai said.

The sheriffs division has been asking for more deputies at courts for years without success.  Last year, lawmakers once again rejected the request for more money, even after a state judge had to tackle an out-of-control defendant in his courtroom, which had no deputy.

Many public safety vehicles used to transport prisoners are old and in bad shape.  Just last week, Sakai said a van full of inmates ready to go to court broke down at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

"And they couldn't start it or it broke down but very fortunately, they never left the facility.  So nobody was jeopardized, except maybe some court start times," Sakai said.

A comprehensive debrief is scheduled for next week, with officials from several divisions within the Public Safety Department to go over what went wrong Wednesday and how to prevent such an escape from happening again.

"I'm also going to be making a request for technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections to do a comprehensive look at our entire transportation program throughout the state," Sakai added.

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