Atty Gen: Saito’s Escape was “Premeditated, Intentional and Planned”
The escape of a mental health patient from the Hawaiʻi State Hospital and the lengthy time it took to report the incident is being called “unacceptable,” according to comments made by state authorities this afternoon.
Unacceptable, Deep Concern:
Hawaiʻi Gov. David Ige was among the state officials who spoke at a press conference today, hours after sheriffs in California located Randall Saito and made an arrest. Gov. Ige said he is “deeply concerned that such a dangerous person was able to escape and remain undetected for such a long period of time.”
Saito has been described as a “psychopathic killer” and “sexual predator.” He was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity for the death of Sandra Yamashiro in 1979 on Oʻahu.
“Clearly, the fact that the escape occurred and that it was 10 hours before we identified that someone was missing, and then instituted the protocol to inform law enforcement, both within the state and the county is totally unacceptable,” said Gov. Ige. ” Clearly, we need to know where these patients are–especially those that can be a danger to our community and we need to be able to account for their whereabouts.”
7 State Hospital Employees Placed on “Off-Duty” Status
Governor David Ige said personnel have been relieved from their duties without pay during this investigation.
This afternoon, Maui Now learned that the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health is placing a total of seven Hawaiʻi State Hospital employees on off-duty status without pay pending the investigation. The hospital employees are being notified and will be relieved of their duties for 30 days as the internal investigation continues. As the investigation progresses, more employees may be identified and placed on off-duty status.
The Department of Health has since released the following statement:
“The department is committed to a thorough investigation, evaluation and correction of our hospital protocols and procedures to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring. In addition to placing employees on off-duty status, all unescorted on-campus and off-campus privileges have been stopped, visits to Kaneʻohe Clubhouse have been suspended, all staff have been retrained on the accountability process, security staff have been reassigned, all levels of patient privilege and visitation policies are being reviewed, additional unannounced patient area searches are being conducted, and procurement of additional security fencing is being expedited.”
Escape was Premeditated, Intentional and Planned
State Attorney General Doug Chin also provided comments during the press conference saying that it was “pretty clear” that the escape was “premeditated, intentional and planned.”
“This is not something that was done by somebody who was suffering from any sort of mental defect or disability, and we intend to press that argument with the court when he is brought back.”
He released a statement this afternoon saying, he is grateful to local law enforcement partners, including the State Sheriff Fugitive Unit, the Honolulu Police Department, and the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, for their assistance with the investigation of and search for Randall Saito.
Chin said Saito will next face a hearing in California to be extradited back to Hawaiʻi. “I acknowledge the efforts of citizens and law enforcement officials on the mainland who helped make his capture possible.”
At Governor Ige’s direction and with the state health director’s consent, Chin said his office will conduct an internal investigation to determine what procedures and protocols were breached, and who – if anyone – assisted with Saito’s escape.
“Separately, my criminal justice division will work closely with the Honolulu Police Department as HPD continues its criminal investigation. This will ensure that appropriate administrative and criminal penalties are thoroughly considered.”
Black Eye for the State?
When asked what he would say to those who view the incident as a “Black Eye for the State,” Gov. Ige said, “Certainly this should never have happened. There are those who are assigned to the Hawaiʻi State Hospital for a specific purpose. Clearly, Randall Saito is not one who should have been allowed to leave the facility un-escorted. He was in a treatment program, and we continue to provide treatment to those in the facility as required. And clearly, the fact that he was able to leave, and that it was not detected for a long period of time, is unacceptable. So, we will be investigating the specifics of what happened and we will be making changes.”
State officials say they are currently in the process of identifying exactly what happened and will then take further action to change protocols and procedures
Lax in Protocols: “It’s a hospital. It’s not a Prison”
Virginia Pressler, M.D., Director of the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health also commented saying, “We do everything we can to protect the safety of the public and the patients and the staff. Certainly there will be further changes we are going to make.”
“This is the first time that I’ve been aware of a situation where there were several shifts of individuals who apparently were not doing their job,” said Pressler.
“This was clearly–we didn’t follow appropriate protocols, and every time there’s an escape we do a debriefing on it to find out what we can do. We’ve made many changes over the last few years to improve the security of the facility, but it’s a hospital. It’s not a prison, and we can’t absolutely assure that no one will ever leave the campus, but in this case, there was fault on our side and we’re doing what we can to address the issues that allowed that to happen,” said Pressler.
“Once our administration at the state hospital was aware that this individual was gone, there was immediate notification of the public safety. And then the state followed its appropriate protocols from there. It was within the state hospital that (there was) the lax in the state protocols and the notification,” Pressler said.
*Story by Wendy Osher. Maui Now’s Nicole Schenfeld contributed to this report.