Prosecutors oppose release of about half on inmate list
Supreme Court order calls for freeing of inmates due to COVID-19
The Maui County prosecutor’s office is opposing the release of 53 inmates or about half the number eligible for release under a state Supreme Court order issued this week to address jail overcrowding amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman said Wednesday.
He said memorandums in opposition were filed in the inmates’ cases by the 4 p.m. Wednesday deadline after deputy prosecutors worked for two days to review the cases and defendants’ criminal histories and backgrounds.
“We felt 53 of them would be of significant risk to our community,” Guzman said. “It’s really now up to the judges to read through them because we won’t even have an opportunity to present an oral argument.”
When deputies were “on the fence” about a defendant and didn’t have enough time to do further follow-up investigation, they were told to file memorandums in opposition, Guzman said.
“We’re public servants here to protect the people,” he said. “If we have to err, then let’s err on the side of protection.”
On Monday afternoon, the Supreme Court issued an order to release inmates in certain categories from jails on Maui, Hawaii island and Kauai in response to a petition by the Public Defender’s Office to reduce overcrowding and the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The categories of inmates to be released included those awaiting trial and serving sentences for misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor crimes, except for abuse, violation of a restraining order or order for protection or other family court crimes.
For some categories of felony defendants who are awaiting trial, who have been sentenced to jail terms as part of probation or who have been arrested on warrants alleging probation violations, the court set an “expedited process” that includes the presumption that motions have been filed for release of the defendants.
Excluded from possible release are defendants charged with or sentenced for murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault, kidnapping, terroristic threatening, sexual assault, burglary, robbery, abuse and first- or second-degree unauthorized entry into a dwelling.
Guzman said lists of eligible inmates provided by the state Department of Public Safety included about 100 Maui County inmates, with all but two housed at the Maui Community Correctional Center. The other two are at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
As of last week, the Wailuku jail housed 312 inmates, above its design capacity of 209 and operational capacity of 301, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Guzman said it would be unlikely that Maui Community Correctional Center would be able to reach its design capacity “because that would mean releasing some of the most violent inmates into the community.”
He said the procedure established for releasing inmates on the Neighbor Islands is like one set by the Supreme Court for Oahu, where COVID-19 cases have been reported among inmates and staff at Oahu Community Correctional Center.
There were 244 inmates and 51 staff who tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. There were no cases at Maui Community Correctional Center.
“I just wish that the Supreme Court would have taken more time to distinguish the Neighbor Islands from Oahu’s situation because one size doesn’t fit all, and we definitely don’t have the issues that Oahu has,” Guzman said.
He said Maui Community Correctional Center’s population “is small enough to be managed, and they have been doing a good job screening inmates.”
“Since we haven’t had any instances of COVID-19, why are we being subjected to the same conditions as Oahu?” Guzman said.
He also was concerned that although the Supreme Court order says inmates who have positive COVID-19 tests won’t be released, it doesn’t require inmates to be tested before being released.
“It would be safer,” he said. “Then we would be able to catch those that maybe have been asymptomatic. Then we would quarantine them before release.”
The majority of the Maui County inmates eligible for release are awaiting trial in felony cases or being held on probation violations.
A few inmates on the list were released after court hearings Tuesday and Wednesday in 2nd Circuit Court.
Felony pretrial inmates Nicole Feliciano, who is facing theft and forgery charges, and Dexter Gumboc, facing firearms charges, were released on supervision. Chivalry Asuncion Kalilikane was given credit for time he already had served when he was sentenced to four years’ probation for theft and unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle. Ronnie Ramos was released after his probation was revoked for not reporting to his probation officer in a violation of a privacy case, and he was resentenced to a new term of probation.
In some cases where the prosecution filed memorandums opposing release, court orders already have been issued.
An order Wednesday by 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill denied release for Thomas Schillaci, who is awaiting sentencing on drug charges after police reported seizing methamphetamine in a search of his Kihei residence in 2018.
At the time, Schillaci was on probation in a July 2014 case when police reported finding nearly 2 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, other drugs, a loaded gun and cash in a search of his residence. His prior criminal record includes a conviction for manslaughter in the June 3, 1996, shooting in Olinda of William “Billy” Simpson Jr.
Citing “significant risk to the safety of the defendant or the public,” Cahill also denied release for Jamen Sugahara and Jared Nakoa, who both are charged with Class A felony drug offenses. The prosecution filed memorandums opposing release of both defendants.
Cahill ordered the temporary release, over prosecution oppositions, of Max Kurpe and Samuel Kailieha III, who are both awaiting sentencing on felony drug charges.
The prosecution is opposing release for Victoria Satoafaiga, who was sentenced in January to a one-year jail term for second-degree custodial interference and fourth-degree sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl in 2017. At the time, Satoafaiga was a Boys & Girls Clubs employee and the victim attended the agency’s Central Maui clubhouse.
Memorandums opposing release also have been filed for:
• Shaun Dennis, who was described by the prosecution as a “career criminal” facing charges including drug offenses, escape, unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle and habitual property crime in four criminal cases.
• Chase Mociun, who is charged with stealing more than $100,000 in jewelry from a closed Paia store.
• Sixer Sonis, charged with habitually operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.