Kupuna at Oahu’s mom-and-pop stores are being victimized by criminals as they continue to work during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“(Criminals are) not just preying on vulnerable seniors. They’re preying on people that the community is relying on to live and make this pandemic more bearable,” said Scott Spallina, head of the city Department of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Elder Abuse Unit.
In the past three weeks, prosecutors charged at least three culprits with offenses that ranged from robbery and terroristic threatening to reckless endangering involving victims age 65 and older working at convenience stores.
The upswing follows a significant drop in crimes against kupuna that had been seen as a “silver lining” at the start of the pandemic, Spallina said.
In pre-COVID-19 days, Spallina said, there had been a crime wave against kupuna involving purse snatchers and “grab-and-dash” thieves in streets, parking lots and shopping centers. But in March and April, during the first stay-at-home, work-from-home order imposed by Gov. David Ige to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, he noticed a dip in crimes, the first decrease since he created the Elder Abuse Unit 12 years ago.
He attributed the decrease to most residents abiding by the emergency order and kupuna staying indoors. When restrictions were lifted, the crime rate returned to pre-COVID days.
The pandemic has not stopped crime from happening, Spallina said. “It only gave us a month or two to catch our breath.”
One of the recent cases involves a shoplifting attempt over a bottle of beer that turned violent when a 21-year-old man allegedly fired a round in a mom-and-pop store in Kalihi.
According to a police affidavit, a male entered Nimitz Local Stop and Deli on Republican Street at about 10:45 a.m. Aug. 19 and grabbed a bottle of beer from the shelf. When he attempted to leave the store without paying for it, a customer stopped and detained him.
Another male suspect attempted to intervene when a third suspect, identified as Ryan Roman-Peter, allegedly brandished a gun and threatened to shoot the customer if he didn’t release the first suspect.
Once the customer released him, the police affidavit said a 74-year-old store employee swung a stick at Roman-Peter in an attempt to chase him away from the store when Roman-Peter brandished a gun and fired one round into the wall, over the employee’s head.
The culprits fled in a white sedan that resulted in a crash near the Kamehameha Shopping Center in Kalihi following a police pursuit. Roman-Peter was arrested Aug. 28 after police located him in Waipahu, according to a police arrest log.
Spallina urged business owners and store employees not to confront perpetrators. They might feel it’s important to try to stop the thief, but individuals these days are carrying loaded firearms, and nothing in their cash register is worth their lives, Spallina said.
In addition to the Kalihi shooting, Roman-Peter is also accused in a separate shooting that happened a day after the deli store incident.
Prosecutors charged him with three counts of attempted murder, one count of felony terroristic threatening and four firearm violations after he allegedly shot at a moving Ford Mustang that he was tailing in a Dodge Ram pickup truck on the H-1 freeway near the H-2 freeway interchange in the Waipahu area on the night of Aug. 20.
Police recovered a bullet fragment from the trunk of the Mustang. A 25-year-old man and his girlfriend, 20, who were in the vehicle at the time of the shooting did not sustain any injuries. Police said the couple and Roman-Peter are not known to one another.
Roman-Peter remains in custody in lieu of $1 million aggregate bail for the H-1 freeway shooting and $100,000 bail for terroristic threatening, reckless endangering and a firearm charge in the deli store shooting.
One week after the deli store shooting, police said, a 40-year-old man brandished a firearm at a 70-year-old convenience store owner in Waikiki.
Police said the suspect, later identified as Andrew Ader, entered the Royal Mini Mart on Uluniu Street at about 5 p.m. Aug. 26. Clad in a neck gaiter face mask and baseball cap, Ader allegedly brandished what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun and pointed it at the owner’s face.
In a interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the owner’s husband, David Beasley, said the surveillance video showed Ader jump over the counter and grab cash from the register and a bank bag from the store.
Beasley said his wife attempted to stop the robber by locking her arms around him, but Ader broke free and fled in a white Toyota van.
Charging documents indicated witnesses observed the Toyota traveling the wrong way on Lemon Road. Approximately two hours later, police found the bank bag next to the unoccupied van a short distance away from the store.
At about 8 p.m. Crime Reduction Unit officers located Ader hiding in a hotel on Kalakaua Avenue. According to Beasley, officers found Ader on one of the hotel floors after he fell through the ceiling from an air conditioning duct he crawled into.
The store owner declined to comment on the robbery. “She wants to put it behind her,” Beasley said. “We feel very fortunate that there was no physical abuse, that things didn’t escalate and didn’t take an unfortunate turn for the worse.”
Prosecutors charged Ader with first-degree robbery and four firearm offenses. His bail is set at $75,000, and he remains in custody at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
Lt. Erik Yamane of the Honolulu Police Department’s Robbery Detail said he understands store owners and employees want to intervene to protect their businesses, but encourages them not to. “We don’t want them to be hurt in any way,” Yamane said.
Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said she understands why owners and employees confront perpetrators as businesses struggle to stay afloat with the Oahu’s second stay-at-home, work-from-home order.
Still, Yamaki said, “We always tell our members that your life is the most important thing. It’s not worth fighting over an item.”
The Honolulu Police Department, city Department of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Elder Abuse Unit, and Retail Merchants of Hawaii offered the following tips to store owners:
>> If feasible, invest in a surveillance system and position security cameras at various angles, particularly frontal face views. Regularly clean video camera lenses to ensure a clear view.
>> Take notice of any distinctive details of the suspect(s), such as a scar or tattoo, and file a police report.
>> Wipe down counters after each customer, which police said would help with collecting fingerprint evidence should a burglary or robbery occur.