Staff mistake, broken gate allowed mental patient escape - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Staff mistake, broken gate allowed mental patient escape

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KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A potentially dangerous mental patient escaped from the Hawaii State Hospital because of a mistake by staff and a security gate that’s been broken for years, officials said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, police and state health officials vowed to improve public notification, since it took a day and a half for officials to announce the escape.

Richard Leibman, 38, known as the “Jesus bandit” because of his long hair and beard, was recaptured by police in Waikiki about 1:50 a.m. Tuesday, hours after his photos were publicized in newscasts on online. He had been on the run for more than two days since escaping Saturday about 6:15 p.m.

State Hospital Administrator William May said staff failed to follow proper protocol when a visitor was entering his unit, where the most dangerous mentally ill patients are housed, leading to the escape.

"We did identify that it was human error that was the root cause of this situation that allowed the patient to leave the building," May said.

May said Leibman was then able to escape the grounds by running right through two open automatic fenced gates that have never worked properly since they were installed at a cost of $426,000 four and a half years ago.

"The last time that we did try to have them operational, we had staff trapped within the secured area for close to an hour out of change of shift," May said.

He said he had no choice but to leave them open.

"I was not comfortable having those things closed unless I was assured that emergency vehicles could get in if need be or that staff could leave or come as necessary. And that's not the case yet," May said.

May said the hospital has worked to fix the gate problems and is re-wiring an intercom unit for anyone trapped by the gate into a security control center that’s always staffed, instead of a nursing station that is sometimes empty for periods of time.

State Hospital officials said they immediately notified police of the escape but cannot themselves notify the public.

"The patients have rights. They have rights to privacy. Their privacy is protected by federal law. And we are very limited. We can't even acknowledge if a patient was there," May said.

Police officers responded to the call Saturday night and searched the area for the escapee, but could not immediately find him, officials said.

In a statement, the Honolulu Police Department said it is "currently reviewing the incident and will be meeting with State Hospital administrators to discuss escape notification procedures."

Mark Fridovich, the administrator of the state Department of Health’s Adult Mental Health Division, said, "I am confident that in our continued work with Honolulu Police Department and the AGs, we can find other ways to effectively communicate with neighbors."

The public was not told of the escape until Monday afternoon, a day and half after it happened. Privately, officials at the police and health departments admit that was a bad decision and they're committed to coming up with new procedures to prevent that from happening again.

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