The Hawaii State Hospital employees who were put on paid leave and suspected of possibly helping dangerous psychiatric patient Randall Saito make an infamous escape to Maui and California using cash and fake identification have been cleared and face no discipline, state officials announced Wednesday.
“Our administrative investigation concluded that there are no grounds to take disciplinary actions against any one state employee at the state hospital, any of the staff members who were on duty at the time that Randall Saito escaped,” state Attorney General Russell Suzuki said. “… None of the employees were complicit in aiding and abetting his escape.”
Saito was committed to the hospital in 1981 after he was acquitted — by reason of insanity — in the shooting and stabbing death of 29-year-old Sandra Yamashiro, who was in a car parked next to Saito’s at Ala Moana Center. Saito was diagnosed with sexual sadism and necrophilia and is now in custody at Oahu Community Correctional Center following the 2017 state hospital escape.
Six hospital employees were placed on paid leave following Saito’s escape and four will be reinstated and retrained, said state DOH director Bruce Anderson.
Two of the six employees retired. A seventh employee was a contracted nurse who was not retained.
Neither Anderson nor Suzuki provided details of how Saito walked off the hospital grounds on Nov. 12, 2017, and took a taxi to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport where he chartered a plane to Maui, paying cash. Police at the time said Saito used a fake ID, then flew to San Jose, Calif., on a commercial flight.
State hospital officials didn’t call 911 to report that Saito was missing for at least eight hours after he had escaped.
When captured in Stockton, Calif., on Nov. 15, sheriff’s deputies found he was carrying $6,000 in cash, a Washington state driver’s license and an Illinois driver’s license with his picture on it but with two other names. Saito called them “pretty good” fake IDs.
Suzuki and Anderson on Wednesday announced the results of an administrative investigation that cleared the six hospital employees. Suzuki said a separate criminal investigation is underway looking at the details of Saito’s escape, but he offered no details.
Before he fled, Saito had spent three decades at the Hawaii State Hospital and was considered a “model patient,” Anderson said.
“Obviously he had gotten to know the staff well and they knew him,” Anderson said.
He described a “friendly relationship” between Saito and the staff that gave hospital workers a “feeling of comfort with him.”
The Hawaii State Hospital is adjacent to Windward Community College and mauka of Kaneohe District Court and Kaneohe District Park.
Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda, a Kaneohe resident, was incredulous that Suzuki and Anderson offered no details of how Saito got the means to escape.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” Tokuda said. “The Legislature was extremely patient with the administration — from the AG to the Department of Health. … But a response like this does not reflect any accountability. It doesn’t mean you should fire people. But to me multiple individuals assisted Randall Saito and should be held accountable. To tell us no one was helping him on the inside, then who was helping him on the outside? If you’re not able to answer those questions, then you conducted a shoddy investigation. Wow, it’s just so wrong.”
Lawmakers during last year’s legislative session took hospital officials to task over reports that Saito had a half-dozen sexual relationships while in the psychiatric facility — including with hospital employees.
House Health and Human Services Chairman John Mizuno said at a hearing in February that an evaluation of Saito in 2010 revealed he had six “significant relationships” while committed.
“There seems to be significant evidence that the person in question had sexual relations with at least three staffers,” Mizuno said. “That’s part of the reason how Randall Saito probably got his privileges and was able to escape. He got a lot of contraband, and this is a major concern.”
Surveillance video footage showed Saito taping the locks of doors in the facility, retrieving a bag with clothes and other items from a locked cabinet and walking off the campus after opening a combination lock on a gate.
Saito’s escape is now forcing policies and procedures to catch up to a patient population that is almost entirely made up of people who have been court ordered into the Hawaii State Hospital, Anderson said.
“Since its inception, Hawaii State Hospital has been a treatment hospital, a psychiatric hospital, not a prison,” he said.
In 1996, 71 percent of the patients were ordered by courts to the hospital — compared to the 94 percent who were court ordered in 2017, Anderson said.
Anderson said multiple policies and procedures at the Hawaii State Hospital have changed since Saito’s escape.
>> New interior fencing throughout the hospital.
>> Reducing the number of patient transports at less secure areas of the hospital campus.
>> Moving a security post to improve visibility and creating an additional security post.
>> Installing additional electronic door openers.
>> Adding additional fenced sally-ports in several areas to prevent escapes.
>> Requiring patients to wear restraints and ankle monitors while in unsecured areas or traveling off campus for medical appointments, which also now require a third staff member instead of two.
>> Banning patients from a nearby clubhouse.
There were two escapes from the state hospital in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. So far this year, there have been none.
“If there was any problem it was one of complacency,” Anderson said. “This is a wake up call for us.”
In August, groundbreaking began on a new Hawaii State Hospital that is intended to address a patient population that has grown to 179.
The new hospital is scheduled to open in mid-2021, Anderson said.
Lt. Gov.-elect Josh Green, a Hawaii island emergency room doctor, said he met with hospital staff as a state senator after Saito’s escape and improved security techniques were already being implemented.
“These are people that need a lot of treatment and the staff has to be commended for what a hard job it is to do,” Green said. “Internally they took some very serious actions.”
The new state hospital, Green said, is planned to be “a new modern forensic facility that can keep people safe. It’s going to be much more difficult for people to leave the hospital that shouldn’t.”
Green praised Gov. David Ige for “taking this seriously. He’s been backing us all of the way to get the new state hospital built. … It will change the landscape of mental health treatment.”