Conduct of Corrections Officers Called Into Question

Senator Lorraine Inouye of the Big Island
Senator Lorraine Inouye of the Big Island

(KHNL) - A Big Island legislator says she has serious concerns about the way a Hilo corrections officer handled a fleeing inmate Tuesday. Witnesses say the guard ordered the prisoner to stop, then shot him in the back of the head.

Senator Lorraine Inouye doesn't mince words, when talking about the Hilo inmate who took a bullet to the head Tuesday.

"It really bothered me," Sen. Lorraine Inouye said. "I'm sure that it will see an ensuing, you know, litigation."

Authorities say a corrections officer shot 28-year-old Thane Leialoha, after the inmate bolted from a transport van. The guard opened fire in broad daylight in Downtown Hilo.

"Keawe Street is a busy area and a limited space as well, crowded," Inouye said. "So, but my concern was that, was it necessary to shoot a person who's fleeing in that situation?"

Interim public safety director Frank Lopez said, "The training of the adult correctional officers takes into consideration the environment that they're in before they would draw and/or use their weapons. They take into consideration their line of fire, which extends beyond the intended target."

The van was carrying a total of ten inmates. Prison officials say there were two guards handling the transport.

"Two correctional officers to the 10 is very questionable," Inouye said. "We should require them to have a back-up system."

Prison officials say Leialoha was in full restraints, when he entered the van. Authorities reportedly found a handcuff key on the road. They're trying to figure out where it came from.

Senator Inouye says she wonders why the corrections officer didn't simply let the inmate run, and call for police back-up. She says the guard exercised "poor judgment."

Lopez says the public safety department is in strong support of the correctional officer's actions in this incident. The guard remains on administrative leave.