Prosecutors raise alarms about hundreds of offenders released amid pandemic

Updated: May. 5, 2020 at 10:18 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the last two months, state prisons have reduced their populations by nearly 38% — all to socially distance inmates despite there being zero positive cases in any state correctional facility.

But prosecutors are concerned that dangerous offenders are being released into the community.

“We should put our brakes on this, let’s not rush into releasing any more prisoners,” said acting city Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto.

Authorities said only non-violent offenders would be released under the agreement, but that is not the case.

“We think it’s important that the public know that it’s not just ‘non-violent’ people being released," Nadamoto said.

Mitch Roth, Hawaii Island prosecuting attorney, agreed.

“It’s really frustrating to be a prosecutor right now when you’re looking at all the work that you’ve done,” he said.

And in least one case, someone who was released early was then connected to a violent crime.

Daniel Baang allegedly stabbed a man to death Saturday after a fight in Aiea. Sources say he had just been released days before because of the emergency prison reduction plan brought on by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Ben Rocky is charged with second-degree assault for attacking a 74-year-old man with a golf club outside the man’s office in Honolulu in March.

The Public Defender's office filed a motion for him to be released to increase social distancing in state prisons.

“There have been no positive findings in OCCC, that it’s time to put a brake on things. Let’s not rush releasing any more people," Nadamoto said.

“Let’s step back and make sure we are releasing non-violent people and is it even necessary."

It is not just on Oahu.

In South Kohala, Jake Branch, 35, was allowed on supervised release after being arrested and charged for multiple warrants, traffic offenses, and property crime offenses, including burglary in April.

James Bonham, 66, was also allowed on supervised release after being charged with second-degree murder that left a 45-year-old Captain Cook man dead last week.

“When you see some of these releases, it’s very frustrating," Roth said.

“In the beginning, we were trying to make sure that we did not have dangerous people. But some of the cases that we had recently, make you really ask questions and I think it’s worrying.”

Roth said the Big Island has the space to expand and they should be looking at other options.

“Let’s look at Kulani. Let’s look at putting at tent at Hale Nani rather than releasing people and putting our public at risk, we have other options that we should be looking at,” he said.

“There are different times we need to look at things differently.”

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