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Man escapes through ceiling at Circuit Court building

By Nelson Daranciang

LAST UPDATED: 9:35 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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