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Man escapes through ceiling at Circuit Court building

By Nelson Daranciang

LAST UPDATED: 09:35 p.m. HST, Oct 31, 2012

State sheriff deputies are looking for a prisoner who escaped from the state Circuit Court building on Punchbowl Street today.

Department of Public Safety officials say they think prisoner Darius Punimau climbed into the third-floor ceiling above a secure room where prisoners can talk to their lawyers before and after their court hearings, crawled about 40 feet, dropped down into a utility room and walked out a nearby exit. 

“This incident is unprecedented, it’s never happened before,” said state Sheriff Shawn Tsuha.

Public Safety officials initially reported that two prisoners had escaped, but a later check showed that only one got away, said spokeswoman Toni Schwartz.

Tsuha said he believes Punimau did not remain in the building. But just in case, he assigned additional deputies inside the courthouse and at all of the exits overnight into this morning when court employees return to work.

No one saw Punimau climb into the ceiling. Deputies discovered him missing about noon Wednesday or shortly after noon during a head count, Tsuha said. And within an hour they were able to trace the prisoner’s escape path.

“We saw the broken false ceiling tile and the trail leading to the exit,” Tsuha said.

He said deputies did two searches as the courts continued operations, which included having one of the deputies crawl into the ceiling. They did another search after they asked court employees to leave the building at 4 p.m., a half hour earlier than the building usually closes to the public.

Tsuha said state Public Safety officials in consultation with state Judiciary officials decided not to shut down the courthouse as soon as they discovered the missing prisoner.

Punimau was there for a probation revocation hearing.

Public safety officials did not readily have a description of Punimau today.

Tsuha said if anyone sees the fugitive, he or she should not approach either one and call 911 instead.

The room from where Punimau is believed to have escaped has a glass wall so deputies can monitor what’s going on inside.

“And it’s actually (standard operating procedure) that frequently, a deputy is actually in the interview room,” Tsuha said, “Its’ just the volume of custodies that we had (today) that precipitated maybe a slight oversight.” 

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SteveToo wrote:
What BOZO designed the building???????????????
on October 31,2012 | 05:42PM
inverse wrote:
You have a valid point. Most false ceilings have support structures only strong enough to support those flimsy lightweight gypsum type board panels. Light fixtures are attached to the actual ceiling above the false celing, however neither that alone could support the weight of a person nor the electrical wires connecting these fixtures and running through the false ceiling. There should be no cables, wires, support structures that could support a persons weight above the false ceiling, much less allow crawling through to adjacent rooms. Something is really fishy with the building design.
on November 1,2012 | 03:49AM
inverse wrote:
Correction: light fixtures do not have to be attached to the solid ceiling above, just placed in the 'flimsy' support structure that holds the false ceiling boards. Helped a friend install Internet cables through the false ceiling of his office building to multiple offices and although the space above the false ceiling connected all of the rooms, with only the lightweight support lattice that creates the false celing, no way to physically climb through to the adjacent rooms
on November 1,2012 | 04:03AM
swimmy808 wrote:
What a joke!
on October 31,2012 | 05:47PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Who was the over paid civil servant assigned to guard them?
on October 31,2012 | 05:57PM
copperwire9 wrote:
Read the article.
on October 31,2012 | 10:48PM
HD36 wrote:
That's like finding a needle in the haystack because Hawaii has the largest percentage of government workers in the US.
on November 1,2012 | 12:27AM
Anonymous wrote:
Hmm, Huu Duc Pham... can I have some Sirracha and a side of Pho with that?
on October 31,2012 | 06:20PM
hanabata wrote:
Huu Duc Pham......No Huu call 422-2222
on October 31,2012 | 06:52PM
stevelaudig wrote:
There are likely to be several incompetences working together here and let's not forget that judges are probably at, or near, the top of food chain. though they might try to have you believe otherwise.
on October 31,2012 | 06:37PM
RichardCory wrote:
Yes, I'm sure the judges were the chief design architects of the court house. That makes perfect sense. Why didn't I realize it sooner?
on October 31,2012 | 06:51PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Hysterical...i thought escapes like these only happened in those Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movies.
on October 31,2012 | 06:38PM
ejkorvette wrote:
Awesome. It's understandable that they escaped while in custody, because after their court hearing the Judge would have released them anyway. Lucky they live Hawaii!
on October 31,2012 | 07:56PM
nippy68 wrote:
yeah i agree with you that the judge was gonna let them go but why did they leave the court house the portagee way when the door was right there?
on October 31,2012 | 08:35PM
FreeRadical wrote:
Really? Its unprecedented? Maybe if the sherrifs did their security checks of the holding cells when its empty, this escape wouldn't have happened. Their complacency put the public at risk. They will always be the red headed stepchild of public safety.
on October 31,2012 | 09:51PM
NoFlippinWay wrote:
Sheriff Shawn Tsuha - "...maybe a slight oversight". Maybe?
on October 31,2012 | 11:50PM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
They should put signs in the holding units that state ten years would be added to their sentence if they attempt to escape. Currently I think they get only five years maximum for escaping if at that. They probably only get a small amount of that if their crime is theft or burglary. Hawaii is light on these kinds of crimes.
on October 31,2012 | 11:53PM
droid wrote:
I give this guy credit. For all the crooks out there who end up anonymous nobodies, here's someone who has made history so embarassing, it's bound to spur big changes in the way the courthouse is secured.
on November 1,2012 | 12:19AM
localguy wrote:
Bozo on patrol, Bozo on patrol. Wow are the Sheriffs embarrassed for their failure to secure an inmate. And we pay them how much to do their job? Looks like they owe us a big time rebate.
on November 1,2012 | 12:25AM
mellishi wrote:
...slight oversight - yah right, the deputies were on coffee break a little bit longer than usual!
on November 1,2012 | 02:51AM
ejkorvette wrote:
The Escapee is laughing! The Sheriff's are laughing(when the camera is turned off) They're saying, "Hell, we get paid anyway". The Judge is laughing, because the Judge is a joke already. The Department of Public Safety is laughing because they are a Joke in themselves. Last but not least, the other inmates are laughing, because now they have no worries about finding holes in the system.LUCKY, LUCKY, LUCKY, LUCKY YOU LIVE HAWAII!!!!!!!!!
on November 1,2012 | 03:18AM
honopic wrote:
You're becoming another "allie" with your asinine comments and digs at Hawai'i. You don't have to crawl through a tight space to get away and go back to where you came from. A one-way airline ticket will do. I'll chip in. Who else is with me?
on November 1,2012 | 01:28PM
inverse wrote:
The false ceiling only has access to that particular floor and there are only a few exits points on each floor such as the elevators and no more than one or two stairwells. You would think if inmates are on any one floor, there would be deputies covering those limited exit points at all times? NOT! What is interesting is I bet the false ceiling allows anyone access to other areas such as judges chambers, bathrooms, etc. I bet while crawling in the ceiling space this guy passed over or next to other rooms that were occupied and heard some interesting conversations!
on November 1,2012 | 03:33AM
soshaljustic wrote:
Probation Rev might go thru when they catch up wit him-gee on an island what you think the chances? Fool! He li ben stay and cause problems where he is it seems.
on November 1,2012 | 08:30AM
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