KAILUA-KONA — Over the course of 12 months, the warden of Hawaii Community Correctional Center was ordered before a judge six times to show cause on erroneous releases and failed transports to Kona’s courthouses.
Last week, West Hawaii Today made a records request to the Department of Public Safety for statistics from January 2018 to date for erroneous releases from HCCC as well as times inmates were not transported to court. The request comes after pretrial murder detainee Brian Lee Smith was not brought out from the Hilo facility to the 3rd Circuit Court in Kealakekua for a scheduled four-hour December hearing to discuss several pretrial motions.
This was the second blunder in Smith’s case. On July 24, he was mistakenly released from HCCC. Officials didn’t realize it was a mistake until the morning of July 26. The 49-year-old turned himself in that evening.
According to statistics from DPS, there were seven mistaken releases over the past 12 months, two of which occurred after Smith was released.
DPS also reported there have been 10 instances where inmates refused to appear in court or could not appear due to extenuating circumstances.
“We make every effort to transport custodies for their scheduled appearance,” said DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. “If an unforeseen situation arises, we will work with the courts to resolve the matter.”
Out of the 10, four of those incidents occurred after Smith was mistakenly released.
Schwartz confirmed HCCC Warden Peter Cabreros was ordered to court six times over the course of the year because of these mishaps.
Smith’s mistaken release resulted in an internal investigation. Last week, DPS Director Nolan Espinda appeared before the state Senate Ways and Means Committee to present his department’s proposed budget when lawmakers asked for an update on the investigation.
While the investigation is winding down, Espinda told lawmakers several new changes had been put into place. Some of those changes include filling civilian records positions, creating new adult corrections officers posts, training both civilian and uniform staff in records, intake and transportation, and initiating a pilot program with the 3rd Circuit for the electronic transmission of court orders.
A pilot program has also been initiated with 3rd Circuit Court for the electronic transmission via email of court orders pertaining to bail in the Circuit Court.
In addition, the department has been working with the Judiciary to streamline the process of receiving court orders and calendars, which is ongoing.
Now, court calendars are faxed to Hawaii Community Correctional Center between one and two days before Circuit Court hearings. When add-on calendars are faxed, the court clerks call HCCC to inform them of the update. Sheriffs are also given a physical copy of the calendar.
Smith is facing numerous charges, including second-degree murder, for a June 23 shooting on Painted Church Road in Honaunau. The incident left Thomas Ballesteros Jr. dead, and Smith and another man with gunshot wounds.
After being indicted July 9, Smith’s bail was set at $1.15 million. Bail was increased to $2 million after he was taken back into custody following his mistaken release.