With two dozen felony inmates at Hawaii Community Correctional Center set to be released over the next few days, Hawaii County prosecutors have concerns about public safety.
Since March, HCCC has been gradually reducing its number of inmates to comply with Hawaii Supreme Court orders to reduce jail populations in an effort to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak among those incarcerated, such as the one currently raging at Oahu Community Correctional Center, which has infected more than 200 inmates.
Last week, the Supreme Court ordered all neighbor island jails to release more inmates meeting certain criteria, including nonviolent misdemeanor and felony offenders. On Wednesday, the Circuit Court named 24 inmates who would be released from HCCC.
Dale Ross, first deputy prosecuting attorney, said the 24 will be released over the next few days, and pointed out that most of them were incarcerated after violating probation.
However, Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth told the Tribune-Herald on Thursday he has serious concerns about the premature release of felons back into the community.
Although he could not, for ethical reasons, name specific individuals he’s concerned about, he said he believes some of the inmates named for release pose a threat to public safety.
“We’re going to be watching this very closely,” Roth said, adding that the Supreme Court order contradicts fervent objections from his office.
“What is he saying to do instead?” countered Honolulu Deputy Public Defender Jacquie Esser, who advocated for the release.
Esser said it is only a matter of time before the first COVID-19 case reaches HCCC, which will have devastating results for the Big Island.
The OCCC cluster, she said, constitutes a major human rights crisis for Oahu and a similar outbreak in HCCC would have worse effects on the less robust health infrastructure of the Big Island.
“We’ll never get control of the virus in our communities if we can’t get control of it in our jails,” Esser said.
Of the 24 HCCC inmates to be released, six have not been convicted and therefore could not be named by the county prosecutor’s office for ethical reasons. Those six are ordered free on supervised release.
The remaining 18 are either sentenced felony inmates — who are being granted a temporary suspension of incarceration — or those pending revocation of probation — who will be given a court date.
The 18 inmates who can be named are as follows:
• Latasha Harrison — second-degree theft, second-degree forgery and intimidating a witness in March 2020 (sentenced to one year jail);
• Gabriel Callo — second-degree theft, contempt of court in August 2019 (sentenced to one year jail and four years probation, probation revoked earlier this year);
• Emalia Vaefaga — promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree in October 2019 (sentenced to one year jail);
• Lawrence Abiley — promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree, failing to register as a sex offender in June 2018 (four years probation, probation revoked in 2019);
• Ronald Altura — second-degree theft in August 2020 (awaiting sentencing);
• Thomas Charles — promoting a dangerous drug in the second degree in March 2020 (sentenced to 18 months in jail);
• Mikah Costa — unauthorized entry into motor vehicle in 2015 (sentenced to one year jail, four years probation, probation since revoked);
• Dean Duarte — second-degree theft in October 2019 (sentenced to four years probation, revoked in August 2020);
• Richard Elliston — escape, made unsworn testimony in August 2015 (sentenced to four years probation, revoked October 2019);
• Aaron Kealii Gomes — two counts of first-degree sexual assault, one of third-degree sexual assault (sentenced August 2019 to four years probation, revoked August 2020).
• Keone Hiilei — two counts of assaulting a police officer (sentenced July 2019 to four years probation, revoked February 2020);
• Joby Iona — promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree in December 2018 (sentenced to four years probation, violated earlier this year, granted supervised release in July, rescinded in August);
• Garrett Lokalualahaina Lee — two counts of promoting dangerous drug in the third degree, January 2019 (sentenced to four years probation, revoked May 2019);
• Anthony Mercer — promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree, February 2020 (never arrived at court for sentencing);
• Solomon Moses — promoting dangerous drug in the third degree, August 2019 (sentenced to four years probation, revoked this year);
• Alika Sullivan — promoting dangerous drug in the third degree (sentenced to four years probation, revoked March 2020);
• Marcus Tilton — unauthorized entry into a vehicle in 2015 (sentenced to four years probation, revoked repeatedly since);
• Roy David William — Habitual DUI in July 2020 (sentenced to 180 days jail).
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