HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The victim in a violent carjacking was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant immediately after testifying against his attacker, in an apparent new policy at the city Prosecutor’s Office that’s drawing growing concern about the message it sends to victims.
The 63-year-old victim, who asked that he not be named, said the carjacking on Jan. 22 left him injured and without the SUV that he lives in.
“It happened so fast, he threw me down," said the victim.
"I was mad. I got back up to pull him back out of the car and then he picked me up and threw me back down again,” he said.
Police arrested Cleophus Hitchcock in connection with the crime.
And days later, the victim was called to testify before a grand jury against his attacker. As soon as the 63-year-old got off the witness stand, he was met by deputy sheriffs.
“There were three people waiting for me outside the grand jury area, waiting to arrest me for a traffic violation and three misdemeanors," the man said.
He says he was cited for violations that included drinking in a public park. The man said he spent seven hours in a freezing jail cell before being released.
His story ― the latest of a victim who was arrested just before and immediately after testifying ― is sparking concern and outrage over an apparent new policy from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
In two weeks, two women ― victims of separate, violent domestic attacks ― were also jailed for misdemeanor warrants while assisting the prosecution.
One of them, Grace Pineda, is expected to testify against her alleged attacker, Kristopher Kalani.
His trial is now underway. But in a pre-trial proceeding last Friday, an employee for the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office was asked on the stand if this practice was part of a new effort or policy.
That employee, who says he works undercover and asked that his name not be used, said that he has never seen a policy or heard of a policy to arrest their victims.
He was asked more than once and stuck to his answer.
Circuit Court Judge Rowena Somerville was convinced during that hearing that there was no new policy. “We all know why warrants have been stepped up recently," she said.
“It’s because the sheriffs are back in town, they’re not stuck on Mauna Kea anymore” ― referring to the Thirty Meter Telescope protest.
But emails within the Prosecutor’s Office seem to contradict the statements made in court.
One email, dated Jan. 23, begins with the line, “A new policy came out … and is effective today.”
It goes on to describe the policy, saying if a witness or victim has an outstanding bench warrant the investigator is to serve the subpoena to assist the Prosecutor’s Office in their case and also execute the bench warrant and arrest them.
The email authored by Mark Yuen continues:
“What that means ... is that your witness/CW (complaining witness) could potentially be sitting in OCCC or cellblock or District Court during your grand jury or preliminary hearing."
The elderly man who was carjacked says he was also told during his arrest that it was a new policy and the deputy prosecuting attorney on his case even apologized to him while he was being taken away.
“He wanted to make sure that I wasn’t mad at him. He said it was his boss," the victim said.
The man’s reply to the deputy prosecutor, “Well your boss really knows how to make efficient use of his resources."
The man is upset and isn’t thrilled to testify against his alleged carjacker anymore.
“You just lost a perfectly good witness in a felony case over some petty misdemeanors. That’s just stupid. It defies logic,” the man said.
He hopes the hours he spent in cellblock will convince a judge to dismiss the warrants and the estimated $1,400 fine.