Former head of Public Safety Department dies

Nolan Espinda, the former head of the state Department of Public Safety, has died, state officials confirmed.

Espinda retired from the department in September 2020, after a rocky period that included jail infections during the COVID-19 pandemic and a riot at the Maui Community Correctional Center.

Honolulu Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now reported that the 65-year-old former director had been found with a gunshot wound at Kailua Beach on Thursday afternoon.

Gov. David Ige, who announced Espinda’s appointment as director of the department in December 2014, said that he was “saddened” by the news of his death.

“Nolan Espinda’s career was spent serving the public in Hawaii’s corrections facilities and administration, jobs that are always difficult and often thankless,” Ige said in a statement Friday. “I am saddened by this sudden and tragic loss, and I express my deepest appreciation for Nolan’s dedication and years of public service. I wish his family strength and comfort in the difficult days ahead.”

Espinda started out with the department in 1983 and served in multiple correctional facility positions, including as Halawa Correctional Facility warden starting in 2009, according to the state.

During his final years as director, he and the department faced criticism for overcrowding and other conditions at MCCC that led to a fire and riot among inmates in March 2019. He also faced calls for his ouster as a large cluster of COVID-19 cases grew at the Oahu Community Correctional Center in August 2020.

His wife Malia Espinda said in a statement on Friday that her husband stuck to his convictions, which inevitably led to criticism. She said he spent nearly 40 years in public service and was “the most brilliant, visionary and principled man I have ever known.”

“Nolan was a man of few words, but a man of strong actions and stronger convictions,” she said. “Acting on his convictions inevitably brought resistance and criticism from some who misunderstood his purpose. With the strength of his broad shoulders, Nolan endured through all, until he could no more. We have lost a beautiful, deeply loving man who his children and I will miss forever more.”


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