Coroner's inquest opens in Hilo shooting
A separate inquiry by the state will look at whether policies need to be revamped
HILO » Hawaii County police and officials from the state Department of Public Safety continue to investigate the shooting death of a detainee who attempted to escape from a jail van Tuesday afternoon.
Inmate Thane K. Leialoha, 28, was shot in the back of the head as he ran from a van on Haili Street in downtown Hilo. Leialoha had been in a scuffle with a jail guard seconds before the guard shot him.
Police are conducting a "coroner's inquest," not a homicide investigation, said police Capt. Chadwick Fukui. But they are in frequent contact with the county Prosecutor's Office, Fukui said. The prosecutor would determine if there was wrongdoing.
University of Hawaii at Hilo sociology professor Rick Castberg, who teaches "administration of justice" to police trainees, says the circumstances when a jail guard can use "deadly force" are spelled out in state law.
The law says a guard can use "force which he believes to be immediately necessary to prevent the escape from a detention facility." Castberg questioned whether a van is a detention facility. A commentary with the law says the force used to halt an escape may include deadly force.
Former Circuit Judge Paul de Silva said the law requires the guard's belief about his actions to be "reasonable."
Castberg said the shooting on a main downtown street appeared to create more danger than any danger posed by Leialoha, who was in custody because of a parole violation.
The site was on a street between a fitness center on one side and a restaurant on the other side. A woman who asked that her name not be used said her granddaughter attends a dance academy for children a few dozen feet down the street.
Department of Public Safety Director Frank Lopez said guards are "taught to take into consideration their complete environment."
The department's investigation will try to determine if policies, procedures or training needs to be changed, Lopez said. It is not intended to determine if the shooting was wrongdoing, he said.
Ten inmates were in the van, separated by a divider from two guards in the front seat, one of them driving, Lopez said.
Lopez hadn't received a report yesterday on why Leialoha was not wearing handcuffs, nor information on how Leialoha escaped from the van, which locks from the outside.
The guard involved has been placed on administrative leave with pay, Lopez said. His weapon was confiscated as evidence, which is standard procedure in a shooting, Lopez said.
Counseling is available for an officer involved in a shooting, but Lopez didn't know whether the guard asked for counseling.