HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Honolulu woman was assaulted last month after a failed effort to deport a mentally ill man to Japan, who federal customs officials released just hours before he allegedly attacked the woman for no reason. It's another example of potentially dangerous illegal aliens being placed on commercial air flights without armed escorts.
The story starts at the Kalihi police substation April 30, when federal customs agents took Japanese citizen Shota Iimura, 35, into custody because he had overstayed his tourist visa.
Police said Iimura was clearly mentally ill, living homeless near the Kalihi police station for months, until officers discovered he was in the country illegally and called immigration officials.
The feds took him to the federal detention center near the airport, where Iimura declined to submit to a routine medical and mental health screening, according to Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Sources said he rubbed his own excrement on the cell walls at the detention center.
Under a deportation policy that allows non-dangerous aliens to be deported without guards, customs officials got him a ticket on Korean Airlines to return to Japan on May 2.
But Iimura "refused to board the plane and began shouting in the jet way, prompting the airline to deny him permission to board," Kice said.
He was then taken to the customs office on Ala Moana Boulevard and ICE released him a few hours later.
"Given his lack of criminal history, ICE released Mr. Iimura under an order of supervision following the aborted removal attempt," Kice said.
Iimura hadn't gone far when he apparently attacked a 35-year-old woman at the corner of Ward and Ala Moana, just down the street from the ICE offices.
She said he punched her for no reason and police arrested him for assault.
Victim Sheryl Barretto told Hawaii News Now by phone it was "ridiculous" that federal officials had released the man who she said was obviously mentally ill and violent.
"How many other people are going to have to get hurt?" Barretto asked. "What if it was a young child or an older person who could not defend themselves?"
"I almost fell into oncoming traffic," Barretto said. "I followed him to the entrance to Ala Moana Beach Park and told police dispatchers where he was because I didn't want anyone else to get hurt."
When police arrested Iimura, he had his "order of supervision" papers on him, signed by ICE official Michael Samaniego, that told him to report monthly to the ICE office on Ala Moana Blvd. and be ready for deportation, according to court documents.
Iimura was in District Court Wednesday, where a judge delayed his criminal assault case for 30 days pending a mental evaluation by a psychologist.
Federal officials said they need a federal court order to sedate aliens before deporting them on aircraft, something that could have prevented this incident from happening.
Kice said the agency will wait until Iimura's criminal case and any sentence he gets are finished before trying to deport him again. And the agency may look at other measures to send him out of the country including chartering an aircraft to make sure this time, he leaves for good.
In a separate incident, an Afghan national convicted of a violent sexual assault was sent back to his home country on commercial air flights from Honolulu earlier this spring without an armed escort. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers' national union has complained similar situations happen every day across the country, potentially endangering the public.
The agency routinely sends thousands of deportees with criminal records back to their home countries unescorted on commercial aircraft every year.
On March 31, Hawaii News Now shot video of Mohammad Mohibi carrying his bag toward the Delta Airlines check-in counter at Honolulu International Airport last month.
The 25-year-old was deported to his home country of Afghanistan after he was convicted in Hawaii of the violent sexual assault at knife-point of his estranged wife.
While three customs officers accompanied him to the check-in counter and through the TSA security checkpoint, Mohibi flew back to Kabul alone, without any law enforcement escort, something that upset Delta passengers.
"It makes me feel completely uneasy," said Vanessa Hamilton of Greensboro, North Carolina, who was leaving Honolulu on the same Delta flight to Atlanta that Mohibi took two weeks earlier.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency determined Mohibi did not pose a threat to himself or the traveling public, so he was not accompanied on the flights by two armed ICE officers, the standard procedure for violent criminals.
"The existence of a criminal conviction or convictions does not, in and of itself, dictate the use of an escort," said Kice, the ICE spokeswoman.
"In this instance, there was no indication Mr. Mohibi had previously exhibited violent behavior toward the general public," she said.
Mohibi was convicted of nine counts of felony sex assault, along with felony burglary and misdemeanor charges of terroristic threatening and violating a protective order.
A police investigation detailed in court records showed Mohibi entered his estranged wife's Waianae home in December 2012 through an unlocked door, and "grabs a hold of ... (her) hair and holds a knife to her throat, while telling her that he will kill her if she tells anyone about this." He then sexually assaulted her, police said.
He spent five months behind bars at Oahu Community Correctional Center and then was released in April of last year to the custody of a sponsor at a home in Waianae.
But a few months later, the sponsor told inmate intake personnel Mohibi was "acting crazy, ripping things, spitting and stated that he wanted to dig (his estranged wife's) grave with his bare hands."
The sponsor said she no longer was willing to have Mohibi live with her because he was "a danger to her as well as to her children because of his erratic behavior.
So he was sent back to OCCC for seven months, until February when he was sent to the Federal Detention Center near the airport for deportation.
Leaders of the national union for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers have been complaining about situations like this for more than four years, saying potentially dangerous criminals are flying commercial airlines without escort officers every day across the country.
National union leaders said front-line ICE officers initially will classify a deportee with a criminal background as needing armed escorts but sometimes they are overridden by supervisors, who clear the deportees to fly alone.
"This is an absolute risk to public safety," Chris Crane, an ICE Council 118 union official told the Houston Chronicle newspaper in 2009. "And it's happening every day."
ICE reported in 2013, it sent home 52,935 aliens who'd been convicted of felonies.
The agency will not release how many convicted criminal deportees have been allowed to travel without armed escorts back to their home countries.
In the Hawaii case, ICE said Mohammad Mohibi arrived in his home country of Afghanistan from Hawaii "without incident."