Judicial directive aimed at curtailing COVID in jails causing problems in streets, hospitals
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - While most people grew accustomed to lock-up and restrictions in the pandemic, many petty criminals have actually been given more freedom. Even after committing violent crimes.
Now, many neighborhoods and hospitals are suffering the consequences.
Noon mass is a daily ritual at Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. A time for parishioners to take pause cloaked in a sense of comfort and calm.
But outside there’s chaos and lawlessness.
On Wednesday, a half dozen police cars lined the perimeter of the church as paramedics whisked a man into the back of an ambulance.
“There’s a lot of fights. Knife fights,” said a woman who wanted to remain anonymous.
Witnesses told Hawaii News Now the violence stemmed from a drug deal gone bad.
“One had a knife in his hand swinging it around,” said the woman. “That’s when he got punched. He just went down basically.”
For John Fielding it’s just an average day.
“It’s just a constant struggle here,” he said. “I’m going to take his bike. Put it inside the storage inside the church.”
The church volunteer, a professional risk management expert, says during the pandemic, crime and drug use along this section of Fort Street Mall’s gotten worse. It’s so bad he makes it a point to stop by every day.
“Just to walk around and make sure everything’s safe,” Fielding said.
He’s there three times a day: morning, noon and night.
Fielding told HNN, “Recently we’ve had trouble with an individual who’s been beating people up.”
He’s talking about Dennis Niupulusu. The 31-year-old has 13 convictions, including two felonies.
In a video Fielding took earlier this month, Niupulusu could be seen surrounded by Honolulu police officers.
“This individual has assaulted multiple people over the past few days,” he said while he rolled on the encounter. “Two days ago he literally knocked a woman out. All these business owners. The security guards. They’re afraid of this individual. Here’s all the police. And you know what they tell us? They can’t do anything about it.”
The state Supreme Court issued a directive last August that stripped judges of their power to lock up most misdemeanor offenders. The intent was to prevent COVID outbreaks in jail. It’s a policy that’s allowed many criminals to go free within hours of their arrest.
“There’s no consequences for their bad behaviors,” said Dr. Chad Koyanagi.
The long-time community psychiatrist also works in one of Oahu’s psychiatric emergency rooms. He says since jails aren’t an option in a lot of cases, some hospitals are turning into de facto incarceration facilities and staff are getting attacked.
“Half a dozen people were injured by a particular individual and I heard that he wasn’t even taken into custody,” Koyanagi said. “He was released back to his family which is horrifying to me.”
According to Honolulu police, the number of people taken to Oahu’s hospitals for a mental health evaluation since the high court ruling went into effect is up just slightly compared to the same time period the previous year. But Koyanagi says the patient demographic has changed.
“You would have a wider range of people in crisis who are depressed, suicidal or straight mentally ill,” he said. “Now, the typical MH-1 is someone using meth, running in the street, victimizing people. They just sleep it off. A couple days later they’re just out.”
And the cycle of catch and release continues.
Earlier this month Honolulu prosecutor Steve Alm put out a warning to the public about Randy Jacob.
The accused serial groper was arrested six times in two weeks. But it wasn’t until the 37-year-old grabbed a deputy prosecutor that he was finally taken off the street.
“Based on what we’ve seen in this case, we have to give judges more discretion,” Alm said.
The series of crimes prompted Alm to ask the high court to reverse its August ruling. A decision hasn’t come down.
Meanwhile, there are plenty more repeat offenders the public isn’t being warned about — like Charles Handley. His criminal history spans three decades: convicted of assault on a police officer, violating a restraining order and multiple counts of harassment.
Records show lately he’s been getting in trouble for setting fires. He’s accused of burning a Waikiki hotel room on Halloween. He was arrested again earlier this month for starting another fire behind the Waikiki police substation.
Court documents show he wasn’t in custody long. Handley had a run in with police two weeks later. He was caught drinking in public.
“The chance of a catastrophic event in the community is much greater with some of these people,” Koyanagi said. “Individuals who set fires. People who assault bystanders without any kind of provocation.”
A week after this video was taken outside Our Lady of Peace, witnesses say Niupulusu attacked a 66-year-old woman.
“She’s got a walker. An elderly lady,” Fielding said. “He randomly comes up to her and knocks her down.”
He was arrested for felony assault — a crime violent enough to finally put him in jail.
Disgusted by the way things played out, Fielding says it should never have to come to that.
“They’re not being held responsible for their actions,” he said. “They (criminals) know it. They’ve been through it many times.”
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