Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024|
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Big Island lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills in the state House that would make the owners of a dangerous dog or dogs that fatally maul a person subject to felony charges.
House Bill 2058, introduced by House Vice Speaker Greggor Ilagan, a Puna Democrat, would define a dangerous dog as “any dog that, without provocation, causes a bite injury to a person or another animal.”
“A dog’s breed shall not be considered in determining whether it is dangerous,” the measure further states.
The bill would subject the owner of a dog or dogs that cause the death of a person to a Class C felony charge — for failure to control a dangerous dog — punishable by up to five years imprisonment.
The dog or dogs involved in a fatal attack would be euthanized.
The legislation also provides misdemeanor penalties for an owner of a dog that attacks and injures a person or injures or kills another animal.
Reps. David Tarnas, a Waimea Democrat, and Scott Nishimoto, a Honolulu Democrat, have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday in the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, chaired by Tarnas. Ilagan is a committee member.
There also is a companion bill, Senate Bill 2692, introduced by Sen. Karl Rhoads, a Honolulu Democrat. No hearing has yet been scheduled for that bill.
That measure, and House Bill 2716 — introduced by Hilo Democrat Rep. Chris Todd to establish involuntary manslaughter as a Class C felony offense — come on the heels of the fatal mauling last Aug. 1 of 71-year-old Bob Northrop of Ocean View, who was attacked by four dogs on Outrigger Drive in Ocean View.
Police concluded their investigation into the case and submitted the results to prosecutors on Oct. 30, according to Capt. Akira Edmoundson, commander of HPD’s West Hawaii Criminal Investigation Division.
To date, no one has been arrested or charged under a county ordinance making failure to control a dangerous dog a Class C felony, nor have the dogs’ owners been publicly identified by authorities.
But police say the dogs’ owners relinquished all four animals plus a litter of 10 puppies to county Animal Control agents after the attack.
Todd’s bill, which is broader and more general in scope would, in addition to establishing the offense of involuntary manslaughter, rename the existing Class A felony manslaughter offense voluntary manslaughter.
Todd said that in addition to the fatal mauling of Northrop, he introduced his legislation in response to the apparently accidental fatal shooting in August 2022 of 11-year-old Boy Scout Manny Carvalho of Hilo.
Carvalho was shot in the back of the head at a Boy Scouts outing at Camp Honokaia near Honokaa when, according to police, an “unsupervised” boy picked up an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle — which discharged when the boy put the firearm back down on a table.
“We have a law for negligent homicide, which is almost exclusively used for car accidents, where someone’s being negligent, but there isn’t really anything in statute that covers some of these specific cases where someone’s inaction or action indirectly leads to a death,” Todd told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “It would have to be something that is basically criminally irresponsible.
“This language should be broad enough that it should be able to apply to similar situations to both of these occurrences in future events.”
Signing on as co-sponsors of Todd’s measure are fellow Big Island Reps. Nicole Lowen, Mark Nakashima, Richard Onishi, and Kirstin Kahaloa, all Democrats.
“Because (involuntary manslaughter) isn’t currently a statute, prosecutors basically couldn’t find a way to charge (anyone)” for the fatal mauling or the Carvalho death, Todd said.
“The idea is to park something there where there’s an option available in these extreme circumstances.”
Todd said much of the language for the involuntary manslaughter bill was drafted by Hawaii County Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen.
There’s no companion Senate measure for Todd’s bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.
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