The deadly events last month at a Diamond Head neighborhood have raised questions about how to keep weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable people.
Jerry Hanel, the tenant who allegedly shot two Honolulu police officers and killed his landlord during a Jan. 19 dispute at a home on Hibiscus Drive, was under a court order banning him from having a firearm or ammunition.
How he got the weapons and to whom they belonged is still under investigation.
The gun ban was part of an injunction against harassment granted to two of Hanel’s neighbors, Rebecca Atkinson and Warren Daniel, on Aug. 21, 2018. The order, which was good for three years, barred Hanel from controlling, possessing or transferring ownership of any firearm or ammunition. Hanel was required to turn firearms and ammunition over to the police department for safekeeping until Aug. 21, 2021.
Hanel, whose body was identified by the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office Thursday, fatally shot police officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama. The officers were responding to a violent altercation between Hanel and his 77-year-old landlord, Lois Cain, whom he is also alleged to have murdered.
The 69-year-old Hanel also allegedly wounded another tenant, Gisela Ricardi King, with a lawn tool and set a blaze that destroyed five homes and significantly damaged two others in the historic neighborhood near Kapiolani Park.
The causes of death for Hanel and Cain are still pending.
Initial enforcement of a temporary restraining order or injunction is up to a Honolulu Police Department officer who, while serving the order, will ask the subject if they have firearms and ammunition. If the subject says yes, the officer confiscates them. If the subject says no, police can’t move forward without getting a search warrant.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said Tuesday that police did not seek a search warrant to look for firearms or ammunition at Hanel’s home. Ballard made the remark at a press conference at the Hawaii State Capitol to introduce gun violence prevention and mental health legislation.
“If a TRO is issued and there’s a ‘weapons’ (order) our (Specialized Service Division) usually goes to the house and for the most part usually they are allowed in and they collect the guns,” Ballard said. “There are occasions where they refuse us. We do have a right to get search warrants to go into those houses which we’ve been hesitant to use.”
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said police apply for search warrants, but it’s up to the prosecutors and courts to approve the warrant.
“HPD has applied for these search warrants in the past, and they were seldom approved. We are presently working with prosecutors to change this,” Yu said.
In the wake of the Hibiscus Drive incident, Ballard said police will step up their quest.
“If we know that they have firearms or we hear that they have firearms, we will be going for a search warrant to try and get into their house to try and search for firearms,” she said.
Nanci Kreidman, Domestic Violence Action Center CEO, said the center often has been worried about the safety of its clients who report that their abusers have firearms — especially when research ties gun ownership rates to domestic homicides.
“The simple inquiry by a police officer — ‘Do you have a firearm?’ — to us doesn’t seem sufficient,” Kreidman said. “We don’t think abusers are likely to be honest at all.”
Kreidman said more due diligence is needed. For example, if the subject of a TRO says they gave their weapon away, Kreidman wants police to verify the claim. She also maintains police should talk to petitioners, especially if they’ve indicated in court documents that they believe the subject has a firearm.
“To me it seems like that ought to be a red flag that should be handled with more care and scrutiny,” she said. “What the police tell us often is that, ‘He has an unregistered firearm — so what are we supposed to do about that?’ We would think a search warrant would be a useful vehicle for ascertaining if there are unregistered firearms.”
Ballard said an issue in the Hanel case was that he didn’t have any guns registered to him. Also, his behavior didn’t rise to the level HPD requires for a police officer to refer him for a emergency mental health examination and treatment.
Atkinson, Hanel’s neighbor, said she wasn’t aware that Hanel had access to weapons, but that police never asked her, either. However, Atkinson’s TRO application, which she filed jointly with Daniel, did say that she was afraid of Hanel, who followed her around, taking pictures, because he believed that she was a spy.
Based on her experience, Atkinson said it probably would be a good idea for “police to question the person with the TRO and check to see if anyone in the home has firearms.”
Yu said multiple firearms were recovered from 3015 Hibiscus Drive and investigators are examining them for ownership and serial numbers.
Police have said no guns were registered to Hanel and that he did not have a permit to carry firearms. They’ve also said that the guns that they’ve recovered were not registered to Cain or her late husband, Raymond Cain, who died in 2005.
Janice Morrow, a house guest from California who stayed in the Hibiscus Drive home, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that at one time there was a storage locker filled with “antique weapons” belonging to Raymond Cain.
Cain’s nephew Mitchel Cain Bell disputed the story, saying that his uncle “never had a weapon that wasn’t issued to him by the federal government.”
However, Morrow also recalled that, at least at one time, Hanel kept his own weapons, including guns, a grenade and some machetes, inside Cain’s home.
“I was considering buying a gun at least five years ago and we went down to his apartment so that he could show me some of his,” Morrow said.
Morrow said the day Hanel showed her his weapons, she had no cause to fear him. But her opinion of Hanel’s mental fitness changed about three years ago, following an encounter “where he thought I was a spy working for the government plotting against him.”
“He moved towards me aggressively, was very drunk, calling me a liar and he looked like he might kill me,” she said.
Morrow said she had only agreed to stay at Cain’s house during this year’s visit to help her 77-year-old friend evict him. She was staying at the house Jan. 19, but was at a yoga class when the violence unfolded.
In the days before the shootings, Morrow said she had contacted police and Adult Protective Services to report Hanel for elder abuse. Morrow said Hanel had locked Cain out of her downstairs office and she feared that Cain would hurt herself attempting to crawl in from the outside. Morrow said Hanel was verbally abusing Cain, too.
“Lois and those police officers would be alive today if they had looked at it as elder abuse,” she said.
A search warrant for guns couldn’t have hurt either, Morrow said.
Morrow said she was told that Hanel’s behavior didn’t meet the threshold for intervention. However, Hanel’s court records contain some red flags.
Divorce documents filed in 1997 in Family Court in Honolulu show Hanel’s ex-wife April Queen Hanel feared him because she regarded him as an abusive alcoholic.
In 2014, Daniel obtained a TRO against Hanel that included a weapons ban after telling the courts that Hanel had “brutally attacked” him.
Through 2018, six more temporary restraining orders were filed against Hanel by four separate individuals, including Daniel and Atkinson. In court documents to renew a TRO, Daniel accused Hanel of having “a long history of violent, aggressive, stalking and dangerous behavior” and said he had “ brandished knives, hammers, set smoking fires.”
Hanel also had been slated to go to trial Jan. 27 for misuse of the 911 emergency telephone service.
“Even after I got my TRO, I never felt completely safe,” Atkinson said. “I kept a copy in my car, in my dog-walking bag and at work. He was annoying and his behavior became unpredictable. Finally, he really snapped.”