Sex offender registry meant to offer peace of mind could be an illusion

Sex offender registry is supposed to offer peace of mind. That could be an illusion
Published: Aug. 14, 2018 at 9:59 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 15, 2018 at 5:20 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The agency that supervises Hawaii's sex offenders acknowledges it didn't know 28 of them are registered as living in parks and beaches across Oahu.

Kevin Takata, supervising deputy attorney general for the Criminal Justice Division, said he learned about the issue after an HNN story last month.

"I did go to our registration site (and) confirmed what you reported," he said.

The state Attorney General's office initially declined to comment on the story, but now says some of the loopholes are a result of current laws.

Hawaii News Now has subsequently learned that there's almost no effort to check if sex offenders are even living where they say they are — or if where they live puts people in danger.

Hawaii's sex offender registry was created to let the public know who's living next door by providing names, photos, current addresses and convictions of offenders living in the community.

But any peace of mind the database provides may be just an illusion.

And that's terrifying to people like Elaine. She was sexually assaulted by her father, and when she thinks about her childhood she still gets choked up.

"It was taught at a very young age that this is normal. This is what love is," said Elaine, whose full name is being withheld to protect her identity. "It was full rape. It was no holds barred. A lot of times people really didn't believe me. They just let him go on."

Elaine says her father exemplifies why the registry is needed and why sex offenders should be monitored.

Even after the state placed her in foster care, court records show her father managed to assault another little girl who lived nearby.

"He had to do sex offender treatment. But in the meantime no one was really paying attention to where he was living," said Elaine. "He was able to offend again — a young girl under the age of 8 on the property."

Elaine's father was sentenced to two consecutive 20-year terms and recently died in Halawa prison.

She says his history shows the consequences of lax supervision.

Takata said while the registry is aimed at showing people where sex offenders live, random visits aren't a requirement of the law.

Turns out unannounced visits to a sex offender's home typically only happen if the inspection is ordered by a judge or the parole board.

That means no one is checking in on the vast majority of offenders living on Oahu, which is a direct contradiction to what a spokesperson told HNN via email in an earlier information request.

"To comply with the law, (a sex offender) must send a verification letter four times a year. And following their birthday must appear in person," said Takata. "Those who don't have a permanent address, they have to report five times a year."

Takata said most sex offenders are allowed to leave their homes and remain gone as long as they want.

Through a search of the database it's unclear exactly how many sex offenders live on Oahu.

HNN found 2,148 who have registered addresses on the island. Those range from a typical street address, to a P.O. Box, a park or beach, and general areas like downtown or Waikiki.

HNN also found more obscure locations like "islandwide bus" and "homeless."

Of all those on Oahu, at least 228 are listed as non-compliant.

The attorney general's office is staffed with about a half dozen investigators. It's their job to find out why those offenders failed to check-in with the state and get that information to prosecutors so a bench warrant can be issued for their arrest.

But that rarely happens.

"I think we may receive on average about one a month," Takata said.

Without a warrant, police have no way of knowing when they encounter a non-compliant offender.

Sgt. Malcolm Lutu, president of the State of Hawaii Police Officers Union, said that's information that officers need.

"For officer safety and public safety, we need to know if they're in the system and why they're in the system," he said.

Manivong Chandara was convicted of second-degree sex assault and has been listed as noncompliant since early 2016.

Since then, his criminal record shows he's had 15 separate run-ins with police. Most of his tickets are for breaking park rules. But because the attorney general's office never got a warrant issued for his arrest, he continues to move about the island unchecked.

"I think it's kind of spooky," Lutu said. "You want to know who these people are."

HNN asked Takata if the public could be put at risk by the fact that many non-compliant offenders don't yet have warrants.

He said, "It could."

And he went on to say, "That person could pose a danger to the community that we could reduce or eliminate by bringing that person into custody."

In the meantime, Elaine says she hopes what's happening prompts lawmakers to bridge some of the gaps in the system.

"One victim is too many victims," she said. "There's got to be accountability for what's going on with these offenders."

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