'Fault on our side': State officials take blame for killer's escape
STOCKTON, Calif. (HawaiiNewsNow) - Seven Hawaii State Hospital employees have been put on leave without pay — and others could follow — as authorities investigate why it took 10 hours for personnel to alert authorities of a psychopathic killer's escape Sunday.
The announcement came on the same day that Randall Saito, 59, was arrested in California thanks to a cabbie's tip.
In a news release on Wednesday afternoon, the state Health Department said the seven employees will be relieved of their duties for 30 days, as the investigation continues.
Earlier Wednesday, Dr. Virginia Pressler, Health Department director, said a preliminary investigation "revealed that staff may have inadvertently or purposefully neglected proper notification of supervisors with appropriate supervision of the patients."
"It was a major breakdown in our Hawaii State Hospital protocols, procedures and guidelines. In this case, there was fault on our side and we're doing what we can to address the issues that allowed that to happen.
Gov. David Ige added, "His escape should never have happened. Authorities should have been notified much, much sooner."
Saito escaped from the Hawaii State Hospital Sunday morning, called a cab to pick him up at Kaneohe Community Park, flew to Maui on a chartered flight and caught a Hawaiian Airlines flight to San Jose, Calif.
He arrived in California on Sunday night, two hours before the State Hospital informed police that he was missing.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office said he was captured on Wednesday morning in Stockton, Calif. The arrest, following the issuance of a nationwide arrest warrant, was made as a result of a tip from a taxi driver, officials said.
Dave Konecny, spokesman for sheriff's office in San Joaquin, said Saito was arrested without incident about 10:30 a.m. Konecny said Saito will be held in California until he's extradited back to Hawaii, where he's expected to be sent to OCCC.
Saito was acquitted by reason of insanity for the gruesome 1979 killing of 29-year-old Sandra Yamashiro at Ala Moana Center. She was a stranger to him.
He committed to the State Hospital in 1981 after experts diagnosed him with necrophilia, or sexual attraction to corpses, and sexual sadism.
His repeated attempts to have unescorted leave from the hospital were rejected by the courts.
Before Wednesday, state health officials had cited health privacy laws and the criminal investigation as reasons they could not explain to the public how the escape went undetected and unreported for more than 10 hours.
But that changed after Saito's arrest.
In the news conference, a contrite Pressler acknowledged that staff at the State Hospital didn't follow proper protocols when they took hours to notify authorities that Saito had escaped.
She also said that stricter security procedures and random searches are underway, and that no patients are allowed off campus without an escort.
"We are reviewing all of our protocols," she said.
Some lawmakers are calling for hearings on the escape, in addition to the state investigation.
"His is an example of, unfortunately, the system breaking down," said state Rep. John Mizuno. "We need to do a better job."
Area lawmakers say the problem of patient escapes have been studied for years and that money for extra security has been appropriated.
They say Saito's escape shows that more work needs to be done.
"This has been an ongoing thing for a long time. They've done investigations, we've had hearings, we've had apologies. We need action," said state Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole, who represents Kaneohe.
State Sen. Jill Tokuda, who also represents the area, said she was at Kaneohe District Park with her family the day before Saito escaped.
"We didn't think that less than 24 hours later, you were going to have someone who murdered ... and has something like sexual assault on their record standing yards away catching a cab that escaped from the State Hospital," Tokuda said.
Meanwhile, State Attorney General Doug Chin said it's apparent that Saito had help to escape, but many unanswered questions remain, including whether Saito was allowed to have access to a cell phone and cash.
Officials also wouldn't discuss whether or not they were aware of any recent misconduct or inappropriate relationships with staff. Documents from 1993 obtained by Hawaii News Now revealed that Saito had sexual relations with at least three hospital staff members. Saito has been known for his manipulative nature, and sources say sexual relations took place on multiple occasions where he was able to obtain contraband.
State Attorney General Doug Chin said Saito's escape "was not done by someone suffering from any sort of mental defect."
"This was premeditated. It was planned. It was intentional," Chin said.
Documents: Hospital escapee had sexual relations with staff
TIMELINE: Escapee had cell phone, change of clothes, paid in cash
Why did it take so long to report escape? State isn't saying
Here's what we know about Randall Saito
Hawaii State Hospital staffer: 'Something rotten is going on'
Those who have fought to keep Saito away from the community warn he is psychopathic and dangerous.
"Because he committed a murder, no matter how long ago it was, he still has ability or inherent ability to do another murder or violent crime," Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Tashima said.
In 2015, Tashima says the court denied a motion that would have allowed Saito to take unsupervised trips off hospital grounds.
"Because of the risk of danger he posed, we weren't comfortable with him being out there. Even with an escort," Tashima said.
Saito was acquitted by reason of insanity for the gruesome 1979 killing of 29-year-old Sandra Yamashiro at Ala Moana Center.
Sources confirm that despite Saito's dangerous past and violent tendencies, he was allowed to roam the grounds of the hospital freely, with a requirement that he check in with staff periodically.
On Sunday, he failed to check in.
Students at nearby Windward Community College say they were notified late Sunday night.
"I'm kind of always alert of what's around me because I'm by myself over here, but it's just kinda scary because he escaped so close to where I work and go to school," said Ashlyn Yasuda, who works at WCC.
Police released photos of Saito leaving the hospital Monday. Cameras captured him wearing a red jacket, pants and a button-up aloha shirt.
The 1979 Murder
Saito's victim was selected at random, authorities said at the time, shot in the face with a pellet gun and then fatally stabbed. After the murder, Saito was reportedly diagnosed with sexual sadism and necrophilia, or sexual attraction to corpses.
He was committed to the Hawaii State Hospital after a judge acquitted him.
At the time, the city prosecutor vehemently disagreed with the decision, calling his acquittal a "miscarriage of justice."
"The defendant committed a cold-blooded murder," the prosecutor said.
Saito has sought release from the Hawaii State Hospital since the early 1990s, but those requests have always been denied.
In 1981, his attorney did not contest Saito's committal, saying he was dangerous and "intends to do it again."
Nearly two decades later, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that state prosecutors believed Saito fit "all the criteria of a serial killer" and opposed his release. And in 2002, in a Honolulu Advertiser article, prosecutors questioned why Saito was granted unescorted leave from the facility.
"He is a psychopathic predator whose mental condition continues to represent a serious danger to the community," deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Albert said at the time.
This story will be updated.
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