HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Prison officials said accused murderer Teddy Munet hid on the grounds of Kawaiahao Church just a few blocks from where he escaped from Circuit Court Wednesday.
The historic church is a tourist attraction full of visitors and Japanese couples getting married. It's also right across the street from City Hall, kitty corner from the state's largest public library and just a few blocks from police headquarters.
People who work at Kawaiahao Church said the murder suspect who was still wearing handcuffs could have blended in with homeless people who sometimes sleep at the graveyards there.
"Yes, (sheriffs) deputies did a search in that area," state Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said. "However, due to the multiple leads being called in that all needed checking, more than likely, the search wasn't as comprehensive. If you remember, there were leads taking them all over the downtown area."
Munet told guards he got worried that authorities spotted him when he heard the police helicopter flying overhead, but he went undetected until nightfall when he traveled toward Ala Moana Center and was captured by police.
Prisons officials said Wednesday that none of the eight inmates in Munet's van were wearing leg shackles, in spite of policy requiring them, allowing him to escape from this Circuit Court drop-off area. Inmates in three other vans at court that morning all wore leg shackle, authorities said.
"For some reason, and this is what we're still investigating, the one van in which Teddy Munet was in, none of the inmates had leg irons on. This is the most important thing that happened," said Ted Sakai, state public safety director.
Prisons officials plan to install radios in each transport van so that prison guards can more quickly and easily communicate with sheriffs, who are responsible for keeping inmates secured once they arrive at courthouses.
"So in the future, once we get those radios, we can have a much better coordination between the correctional officers and the sheriffs," Sakai said.
Up to 70 inmates can arrive at court at once, so Oahu Community Correctional Center guards will now call sheriffs at the courts to let them know they are leaving with a load of prisoners in advance, Sakai said.
Sakai said he has "serious doubts" that any corrections officers helped Munet escape.
"If it was an inside job, what was he doing 12 hours later, in the immediate vicinity of the escape scene? If it was inside job, he would have had help in fleeing also," Sakai said. "I believe it was an escape of opportunity. He knew that his legs weren't restrained. He saw that the officer was going to lose sight of him and he bolted."
Sakai also cast doubt whether the escape was planned, asking why Munet tried to carjack a woman just steps away from circuit court, moments after he escaped. If Munet had planned an escape, he would have needed someone nearby to pick him up and drive him away, Sakai said.
The two guards assigned to Munet's van have been reassigned to administrative duties at OCCC and removed from the unit that transports inmates to court, medical appointments and elsewhere, Sakai said.
Because of his escape, Munet has been moved from OCCC's general population to a more secure segregated unit, where he is allowed outside of his cell for only one hour a day, Sakai said.
Sakai had asked federal prisons officials from the National Institute for Corrections to send an expert to Hawaii to review the state's procedures for transporting inmates, following the escape. But Tuesday, federal officials told Sakai because of automatic federal budget cuts set to take effect on Friday, all travel in the month of March has been canceled, so they won't be able to travel to the islands soon.
Witnesses said two of the guards chasing Munet were overweight and one had a large stomach that looked like that of a pregnant woman.
Sakai said he has begun talking to the prison guards' union and state human resources officials about requiring recurring physical fitness requirements, which are not required now.
"We require a certain level of fitness coming in and I think we need to make sure that as they progress in their careers, they maintain a certain level of fitness also," Sakai added.
On Monday, Sakai held an internal, top-to-bottom procedural review of last week's escape suspect to see what went wrong and work on ways to improve security during transports.
The manual gate and overcrowding in the Circuit Court sally port, where up to 70 inmates can arrive in the morning, were also discussed at Monday's debriefing session. The building is owned by the state Judiciary. Sakai has already begun setting up meetings with Judiciary representatives to discuss the possibility of adding an automatic gate as well as limiting that entrance to law enforcement and corrections transports. Right now, the area is open to the public.
Munet escaped last Wednesday shortly after 8 a.m.; the 29-year-old was being taken to Circuit Court from OCCC when he ran away from eight correctional officers. Police captured him that evening on Waimanu Street. Munet is charged with killing his friend last year in Kaneohe. Authorities plan to seek a grand jury indictment of him in the escape case.