Despite mounting criticism, governor stands by reappointment of Public Safety head

Department of Public Safety head up for confirmation as opposition stands firm

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor is standing by embattled Public Safety director Nolan Espinda ahead of what’s certain to be a tough confirmation hearing Thursday.

In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Gov. David Ige said Espinda is the right person for the job.

He said Espinda has done a good job with his resources, has controlled overtime and has improved the conditions in facilities.

He added that a spate of high-profile incidents, including the fatal shooting of an OCCC escapee and a large riot at a Maui jail, are “unfortunate."

"But I have full faith and confidence that Nolan Espinda is the best person for the job,” Ige said. “We will continue to advocate for his confirmation.”

At the same time, a growing number of Espinda’s critics are calling for a change.

Those critics including a former sergeant at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, who said Espinda has proven that he can’t oversee a department with 3,000 employees and an annual budget of $300 million.

"As far as Nolan being reconfirmed, no,” said former OCCC Sgt. Maysana Lopes.

“We the people, the working part have to walk on egg shells because you can be literally targeted for standing up for justice,” said Lopes, who is trying to get her old job back and claims she was wrongfully terminated for helping an inmate who was brutally beaten in 2015.

The high-profile incidents have been stacking up, especially in recent months.

Last July, the department mistakenly released a murder suspect on the Big Island. In February, a deputy sheriff shot and killed a man at the State Capitol.

A month later, an Oahu Community Correctional Center escapee shot and killed by a guard.

Also in March, a riot at the Maui jail in which staffers said inmates tried to burn officers alive.

Senate Public Safety Committee Chairman Clarence Nishihara said at this time he will not be recommending Espinda for the position.

It’s unlikely, however, that a decision on the confirmation will be made Thursday.

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