State admits less-lethal options are on hand, but not for use in field

Pepperball Guns are among the less lethal options used in training but not in the field.
Pepperball Guns are among the less lethal options used in training but not in the field.(Hawaii News Now (custom credit))
Updated: Mar. 27, 2019 at 7:58 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -The state has purchased at least 35 less lethal guns and eight pepperball guns in the last two years.

But none of the less lethal options are available for use by deputies on patrol, a Hawaii News Now investigation found.

The issue came up after an officer-involved fatal shooting near the Capitol.

Sheriff’s deputies were trying to arrest Tison Dinney on Oct. 7, 2018.

When pepper spray was apparently ineffective, they asked over the radio for a less lethal gun to be brought to the scene.

They were told by the Acting Lieutenant that none was available.

Receipts obtained by Hawaii News Now show multiple purchases in the last two years for the guns. $5,090 for Remington 870 shotguns and conversion kits to make the shotguns less lethal, $7,287.22 for various bean bag and powder rounds, $895.85 for each Pepperball gun, and the purchase lists go on and on.

So why is all the potentially, life saving equipment not being distributed to the deputies who have the most interaction with the public?

In a statement, Renee Sonobe Hong, The Department’s Deputy Director of Law Enforcement, said “The less-lethal equipment at TSD (training and staff development) is meant for training purposes only," and is being stored in the armory.

State Representative Chris Lee, of the House Judiciary Committee criticized that practice, "It begs the question, why even train with non lethal options if you’re never going to have the ability to use them?”

Tison Dinney, who was suffering from mental illness, ended up getting shot and killed by Honolulu police officers called to assist the deputies.

Delmar Espejo was also killed at the capitol last month after a struggle with another sheriffs deputy.

State Senator Karl Rhoads, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says less lethal force could have helped in both situations, “It seems like a real possibility that that wouldn’t have happened," Rhoads said, "There’s no reason not to deploy it to the field.”

Rhoads is one lawmaker who has a vote in the upcoming confirmation hearing for the Director of the Public Safety, Nolan Espinda. That hearing will likely be next month and Senators say this is one more hit to his administration.

Representative Chris Lee is not part of the confirmation hearing, but says, withholding less lethal equipment is another sign that change is needed, “It’s what our deputies and what our law enforcement on the front lines are asking for and are pleading for, but the administration overseeing them isn’t giving them those tools, then I think we have to ask, do we need new leadership?”

There are also Pepperball guns at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, the department admits, but those are not even functioning.

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