Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Inmate who escaped via court ceiling recaptured

By Nelson Daranciang


State sheriff deputies recaptured a fugitive Thursday, less than 24 hours after the inmate escaped from the Circuit Court building on Punchbowl Street.

The Sheriff Division's Fugitive Team apprehended Darius Puni-Mau outside the Pali Safeway store at about 10 a.m. without incident.

Courthouse deputies discovered Puni-Mau missing at about noon Wednesday.

The Sheriff Division's warrant and criminal investigative follow-up sections used intelligence about Puni-Mau's associates and hangouts to track him down, said Shawn Tsuha, state sheriff.

"We actually had a break in the sense that somebody had said that a particular vehicle was seen," he said. "We were able to narrow that vehicle down."

Puni-Mau was not in the vehicle, and it wasn't at Safeway when sheriff deputies captured him, Tsuha said.

Based on the evidence and investigation of the escape, Tsuha said officials are pretty sure Puni-Mau entered the courthouse's third-floor ceiling above the interview room where inmates talk to their lawyers before and after court hearings, crawled in the ceiling about 40 feet, dropped down into a utility closet and walked out a nearby exit.

They found bits of broken ceiling tile and a slipper in the room where they believe Puni-Mau entered the ceiling. They found the second slipper in the ceiling and footprints where they think he dropped down and walked out.

Tsuha said there were about a dozen inmates in the interview room when deputies discovered that Puni-Mau wasn't there. A large glass window allows the desk sergeant to see into the interview room.

Standard operating procedures do not require the presence of a deputy in the room. However, one is often assigned there, Tsuha said.

But on Wednesday there was a higher-than-normal number of inmates at court, leaving the interview room without a deputy. And with many inmates going in and out of the interview room at a time, Puni-Mau was able to climb into the ceiling unnoticed, he said.

From the beginning, the physical evidence suggested only one inmate had crawled into the ceiling. However, because a state judge had ordered another inmate released from custody at court that day, Tsuha said the headcount suggested two missing inmates. It wasn't until the last transport van — which was late due to the traffic backup because of a garbage truck crashing into an H-1 medial barrier — returned to Oahu Community Correctional Center on Wednesday night that prison officials were sure that there was only one missing inmate: Puni-Mau.

Tsuha said his division is doing a review of what happened. The division is also consulting with the state Judiciary, which owns and operates the building, on ways of better securing the interview room. The Judiciary took contractors into the courthouse Thursday to make assessments of the work needed to secure the cellblock interview room, Judiciary spokes­woman Marsha Kita­gawa said.

A state judge sentenced Puni-Mau in February to probation for felony criminal property damage and misdemeanor abuse of a family or household member. He was taken into custody in June for entering a dwelling without permission and committing two more counts of abuse of a family and household member. He was supposed to be sentenced for the new charges Tuesday, but he failed to return from a pass on Oct. 17 to get a drug abuse assessment.

Puni-Mau was recaptured later Tuesday, and on Wednesday was supposed to face a judge about his earlier probation violation.

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