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Several Hawaii inmates released during coronavirus pandemic rearrested for new crimes

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                                Razor wire lines the top of a perimeter fence at Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC).


    Razor wire lines the top of a perimeter fence at Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC).

Some of the 823 inmates let out of state correctional facilities to curb the spread of COVID-19 are facing new charges from crimes committed during their release.

One of them is pretrial detainee Amos Filipo, 41, who was being held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center awaiting trial in Circuit Court for a felony auto theft charge. On March 27, a judge granted Filipo supervised release and rescheduled his trial based on a March 16 Hawaii Supreme Court order that postponed most court proceedings in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak.

While he was out, prosecutors charged Filipo with petty misdemeanor theft for allegedly stealing items from a convenience store three days after his release and misdemeanor terroristic threatening for allegedly threatening a woman with bodily harm April 29 at a residential building in Kalihi.

Filipo is among the inmates who were released either on probation or supervised release because their hearings were postponed under the order signed by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald that required rescheduling of most court proceedings because of COVID-19.

At least a dozen inmates released from correctional facilities during the outbreak were re-arrested for various reasons that range from violating a stay-at-home order to being accused of committing new crimes, according to the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser researched a number of those cases, which included some handled on a case-by-case basis by judges, deputy public defenders and deputy prosecutors before the Office of the Public Defender submitted a list of 426 inmates to the Hawaii Supreme Court on March 30 to consider for release.

Filipo has a criminal record of 18 convictions that include two felony burglaries, three felony drug convictions, misdemeanors for assault and abuse of a family or household member, and petty misdemeanors for criminal property damage, driving under the influence of an intoxicant and disorderly conduct.

On March 25, Deputy Public Defender Sheena Crail filed a motion on behalf of Filipo for an emergency and humanitarian release, citing the heightened risk of Filipo contracting the coronavirus at the correctional facility due to overpopulated conditions.

Another case involved Vanity Sua, 27, who had been in jail since March for allegedly violating terms of her probation under the Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program and set to appear in Circuit Court on April 8 to address the alleged violation.

Because most in-person court appearances, with the exception of emergency and time-sensitive matters, were postponed under Recktenwald’s order, a Circuit Court judge set aside Sua’s bail, released her back on HOPE probation and rescheduled her hearing for July.

According to the ACLU of Hawaii, Sua was not on the list of inmates submitted to the Supreme Court by the Office of the Public Defender.

During her release, Sua was re-arrested and federally charged in connection with an April 22 armed carjacking in Waipahu. According to an affidavit filed at U.S. District Court in Honolulu, Sua entered the victims’ sedan before two men drove up in a pickup truck. They exited their vehicle brandishing handguns and Sua snatched the car keys from the ignition. The victims were ordered out of their car and Sua allegedly drove off in her vehicle while one of her accomplices took the sedan and the other left in the truck. The two male carjackers remain at-large.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Rom Trader granted a motion to detain Sua at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center without bail and scheduled a May 14 preliminary hearing via telephone.

Sua’s criminal record includes three convictions for felony resisting an order to stop a motor vehicle, misdemeanor theft and petty misdemeanor criminal property damage.

Also re-arrested following his release was Sky Talamoa, 29. Based on the March 16 order, a judge granted him emergency and humanitarian release on April 15 and postponed a hearing to June 1 to address Talamoa’s violation of his HOPE probation.

Talamoa has a criminal history that includes four felony drug convictions; three misdemeanor assault convictions for assault, resisting arrest and inattention to driving; and petty misdemeanor theft.

Prosecutors say that four days after his release, Talamoa was arrested as a suspect in a Chinatown robbery. Prosecutors filed a motion this week to revoke his release because of the alleged robbery and claimed he failed to report to his probation officer on at least three occasions and used methamphetamine daily since his release.

As of Friday, a total of 823 inmates had been released from state prison or jails since March 2 to reduce overcrowding and minimize the spread of COVID-19, dropping the inmate population from 2,189 to 1,366. There have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in the Hawaii correctional facilities to date.

Three county prosecutors and state Attorney General Clare Connors want the Hawaii Supreme Court and court-appointed special master Dan Foley to halt or pause the mandated push to release inmates, because the number of new coronavirus cases in the state has leveled off. On Friday, no new cases were reported for the first time in eight weeks.

Public Defender James Tabe said it is too premature to have that discussion, based on widespread infections in mainland prisons.

Acting Honolulu Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto said the number of re-arrest cases is likely to grow. Many of the released inmates, Nadamoto said, have drug problems. “They don’t have an urgency to take care of their drug problems,” he said.

Of the re-arrest cases, Honolulu Deputy Public Defender Lee Hayakawa said, “Just by the sheer number of inmates released, we expected that several inmates would be back in custody because of some sort of failure to comply.”

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