WHT editorial: How did pursuit get this far?

A 37-year-old man was airlifted to an Oahu hospital in serious condition after suffering gunshot wounds on Wednesday, launching another police manhunt in an area that was already in the middle of one.

For the past week, Hawaii Police officers have been searching for Walter Gomes III, last spotted fleeing from officers near Hawi.

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Gomes, on the lam from police officers since March 20, wasn’t believed to be tied to the search that began Wednesday near Wainaia Gulch, however. The victim Wednesday morning was shot in front of officers responding to a distress call.

Police are asking for help in that manhunt — opening another horrible chapter rural North Kohala must endure without yet knowing the ending to the first.

Worse, there are still plenty of questions how Gomes eluded officers to bring that pursuit this far along.

Gomes thrice escaped police officers, who fired upon him.

Police had their first run-in with Gomes in Kailua-Kona near Costco at 2:05 a.m. last Thursday. He was wanted for allegedly shooting a woman.

After Gomes refused their commands, police opened fire on the 41-year-old as he drove toward a police vehicle. Hours later, the search for Gomes took officers north to Hawi, where police discharged their weapons on two more occasions, once at the Minit Stop and Ohana Fuels and again a half-mile away on Akoni Pule Highway near Old Camp 17 Road.

Gomes disappeared into the North Kohala brush after crashing into a police cruiser Thursday evening on the highway. He has not been seen since.

Eight officers were put on administrative leave pending investigation for discharging their weapons during those encounters. At times, that police pursuit, according to officers communicating with dispatch during the chase, was traveling about 35 mph on the narrow roads around Hawi.

In the end, multiple officers couldn’t pin down one fleeing suspect in a vehicle that drove away wildly, sure, but at far from outrageous speeds in an area with a limited number of roads. Nor could officers catch the 5-foot, 11-inch tall, 182-pound Gomes when the pursuit went to foot.

We’re left scratching our head.

What happened? Was there anything that could have been done better to bring Gomes in from the onset? Is there better training out there that could serve our officers? What about equipment? Or was the suspect so fleet of foot and so deft behind the wheel that not even the best among any force could have captured him?

These are valid questions and it would serve the island for the department to answer them.

So far, they haven’t.

Hawaii Police Lt. Roylen Valera on Monday would not comment to West Hawaii Today as to what the police protocol is when it comes to an officer drawing their weapon and firing.

Police Chief Paul Ferreira and Deputy Chief Kenneth Bugado didn’t respond to the same inquiry posed to them. The lieutenant said he wouldn’t speak to the policy question. In regard to training when it comes to performing felony traffic stops, Valera didn’t speak to specifics on that, either.

“As you may already be aware, in police work there is no such thing as ‘ordinary’ and that each circumstance and case may be different,” he said. “There is no way to train for every scenario that could possibly happen, but we do train for a lot of scenarios.”

Police also didn’t respond whether Gomes produced a firearm and/or fired at them.

At the same time police weren’t offering specifics, the department did craft a press release thanking the community for calling in tips.

“We appreciate the cooperation of citizens and Neighborhood Watch groups for being our eyes and ears on the street,” Valera said in the release.

The release included information for people who might be interested in joining a group and that the manhunt served as a great example of how an organized watch group can enhance community safety and awareness by pooling information.

We agree.

But, we’d add that a public willing to help deserves information by the department it’s aiding on everything that happened to get us all to this point. Because the public, not just this paper, has the same questions listed above.

It’s been a tough year for police. No question. Puna patrol officer Bronson Kaimana Kaliloa was killed in the line of duty in July. The suspect, Justin Waiki, was fatally shot by officers, one of four deadly shootings by Big Island police in 2018.

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It’s a difficult, dangerous job.

But when the dust settles from this chaotic pursuit, the department needs to let us know what, exactly, happened and what, if anything, it learned.