HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
State Hospital officials refuse to offer explanations after a dangerous killer escaped their custody and flew to California before police were even notified
Hawaii State Hospital officials, citing patient privacy laws and a criminal investigation, offered no explanation Tuesday of how a killer in their care walked out of the Kaneohe facility and found his way to California even before the hospital reported him missing. At least one lawmaker is calling for an investigation into the brazen escape and answers to why it took hours to report it to authorities. “There’s major cause for alarm right now by the general public,” said state Sen. Will Espero, former chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
Randall Saito, 59, who was acquitted by reason of insanity in a brutal 1979 murder at Ala Moana Center, remains at large and apparently has been in California since Sunday night. State Attorney General Douglas Chin on Tuesday charged Saito with felony escape. A $500,000 bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
Law enforcement in all 50 U.S. states may enforce an arrest warrant issued by the state. “This is a dangerous individual,” Chin said. “We need him off the streets. The state is in close contact with law enforcement to make this happen.”
Honolulu police said Tuesday that Saito left the State Hospital at 10 a.m. Sunday and took a taxi to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport where he chartered a plane to Maui, reportedly using cash and a fake ID. Saito then took a flight to San Jose, Calif., arriving around 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
The State Hospital didn’t call 911 to report Saito’s disappearance until shortly after 7:30 p.m. Sunday, prompting an all-points bulletin at 8:30 p.m., police said.
The FBI’s violent crimes task force and U.S. marshals have joined in the manhunt.
Court records indicate Saito has relatives in California who manage money he inherited from his father. Records also show Saito informed a doctor that his family “sends him some as necessary.” Meanwhile, State Hospital Administrator William May and Adult Mental Heath Division Administrator Mark Fridovich on Tuesday were short on answers with reporters at a news conference at state Department of Health headquarters. They said they couldn’t offer any details about Saito, his status at the hospital or a timeline of his movements at the facility Sunday. The officials did acknowledge a roughly eight-hour gap between the time Saito was supposed to check in from unsupervised release within the hospital grounds in the morning and the time authorities were finally notified in the evening. They also said it’s possible the escape could have been an inside job. But they added any such scenarios likely wouldn’t emerge until after a full investigation into the matter. Fridovich said the State Hospital is obligated to treat its patients in the least restrictive setting.
“And that means, as part of their rehabilitation, affording them the opportunity to explore relative autonomy and some independence around their movement,” he said. “It’s not a custodial environment; it’s not a prison environment where people are locked up for periods of time.”
As for the escape, May said the hospital alerted authorities as soon as its staff learned Saito was missing. “We take these things very seriously,” he said. All staff members are now being retrained on policies and procedures to make sure they are doing their jobs correctly and doing what they are supposed to be doing, he said.
May said that as with previous incidents, Saito’s escape likely will lead to policy and operational changes. Espero (D, Ewa BeachIroquois Point) said more transparency is needed from the State Hospital and state health officials.
He said he was stunned a system was not in place at the very least to stop a “murderer” committed to the State Hospital from boarding a flight to the mainland. He plans to request that the Health Committee hold an informational briefing to investigate how Saito escaped.
“It does appear there’s a breakdown in the system when it comes to these escapees,” Espero said. “Unfortunately, these incidents from the State Hospital have been happening more often than they should be. There’s definitely some security issues here that we need to get addressed and do a better job operating as a state hospital. It’s shouldn’t be this easy (to escape).” State Sen. Josh Green said the escape isn’t surprising considered how outdated the hospital is. Some of the buildings date back to the 1930s. Green, a physician, said that’s why lawmakers appropriated $300,000 two years ago to build a new wing.
“We knew there was rampant security problems and violence there,” he said. Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said the state sheriffs dispatch received a call at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, and a public advisory was issued just before 8:40 p.m. Details of Saito’s violent past were not included in the alert. May said he would be meeting with the chairman of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board to talk about how public notifications can get out into the community faster. A danger to others In 1981, Saito was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity in the death of Sandra Yamashiro. In July
1979 he shot Yamashiro, who was parked next to Saito at Ala Moana Center, and repeatedly stabbed her. Experts diagnosed Saito with sexual sadism and necrophilia, and he was committed to the State Hospital in 1981.
In 2010, Saito filed a motion to request unescorted off-grounds privileges to the Koolau Clubhouse, where he attends programs. The clubhouse offers rehabilitation services to adults with mental illnesses.
Two of three doctors appointed to a panel to examine Saito to determine whether to grant him such privileges were against the motion.
In a letter to Circuit Judge Richard Perkins, Dr. Gene Altman said Saito “presents a substantial risk of danger to others as a result of his current mental state.” In boldface text, Altman added, “There are no conditions under which he can be safely allowed unescorted off-grounds privileges without danger to others at this time.”
Saito withdrew the motion later that year but filed another motion in 2014 seeking off-grounds passes. Perkins denied Saito’s renewed request in 2015. Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Tashima, who opposed Saito’s motion for unescorted off-site privileges, described the 1979 murder as “heinous and brutal.”
Given the nature of Yamashiro’s death, “We still consider (Saito) a high risk of danger even though it’s been 30 years since the crime was committed,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday. There is a propensity for him to commit a similar crime, Tashima added.
“I just hope they find him soon,” he said.
In 1993 city prosecutors consulted with the FBI when Saito applied for release. FBI agents interviewed Saito for six hours, according to a 1997 account in The Honolulu Advertiser. During the interview Saito remembered how the blood smelled when he shot Yamashiro behind the ear, how it felt when he stabbed her and how she looked when she died.
“This was important to him. He remembered all the details,” FBI Special Agent Jim McNamara told the paper. “It became clear there was no way he should be on the street again.”
With the FBI testimony a state judge denied Saito’s request for release.
Randall Saito is shown on surveillance video leaving the State Hospital on Sunday and also in a taxicab he took after escaping from the hospital.
At top, State Hospital Administrator William May, left, and Adult Mental Health Division chief Mark Fridovich held a news conference about Saito on Tuesday but would not give specifics, citing privacy laws and an ongoing investigation.