State briefs for October 10

Panel calls for commission to address prison problems

HONOLULU — A task force is recommending the state form an independent commission to provide oversight of correctional facilities as well as shepherd in reforms to the prison system.

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The 13-member task force chaired by Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Wilson is expected to finalize and submit its report to the state Legislature by the end of the year.

The report cites the lack of public information about inmate suicides as one of the reasons supporting an independent oversight commission. It calls for the commission to inspect and monitor correctional facilities, investigate complaints and report findings to the public.

Hawaii’s inmate suicide rate is the seventh highest in the country, according to statistics from the federal Bureau of Justice. The state Department of Public Safety hasn’t release the results of internal investigations on the 26 inmate suicides in Hawaii jails and prisons that have occurred since 2010.

“The public never finds out anything,” said Robert Merce, a member of the task force. “All the public knows is that people are killing themselves in this prison system at an alarming rate. That is why you need an independent, outside agency to go in immediately and investigate all those kinds of things and find out what are the policies, are people following the policies or are the policies themselves the problem.”

The department is “an active participant” in the panel’s discussions, and it will fully consider the report’s recommendations and “will continue to work with them and the Legislature,” department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in a statement.

The department didn’t respond to several requests for interviews with Director Nolan Espinda on if an oversight commission could help address problems at prison facilities.

Honolulu police kill man after he hits officer with machete

HONOLULU — Honolulu police officers shot and killed a man across from the Hawaii Capitol after he hit an officer with a machete, police said.

State deputy sheriffs responded to call reporting an armed man threatening another person outside the state Department of Health building Sunday morning.

Sheriffs had ordered the man to give up his machete and garden shears and tried to use pepper spray on him, said Jonathon Grems, the acting Honolulu police chief. Chief Susan Ballard is on the mainland for a conference.

Honolulu police responded, and the man had dropped the weapons. Police ordered him to move away from the weapons, and officers moved in to apprehend him, Grems said. As police approached, the man picked up the machete and swung at an officer, striking him on the torso.

An officer fired a stun gun and another officer fired three to four gunshots, hitting the man, Grems said.

The officer hit by the weapon was wearing a vest, likely protecting him from the blow. He was injured when he hit his head on a wall as he tried to move out of the way.

Police have not identified the man who later died at a hospital.

The officer who shot the man was placed administrative leave, which is standard policy following a police shooting.

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The incident happened as Children and Youth Day activities at the state Capitol were setting up. Grems said the public was not in danger as the shooting occurred in an isolated area.

Honolulu police officers have been involved in six deadly shootings this year. All of them have occurred since June.