'Bodily harm' was impetus for shooting, jail guard says
HILO » A jail guard who shot and killed an escaping prisoner April 11 in downtown Hilo told a 911 operator that the prisoner "used bodily harm" against him before the shooting, according to tapes from Hawaii County Police and Fire departments.
The guard, whose name has not been released, shot Thane K. Leialoha, 28, after Leialoha got out of handcuffs and ran across busy Haili Street in midafternoon.
The tapes were released yesterday at the request of news media.
"Why did you shoot him?" a fire dispatcher asked the guard moments after the shooting.
"He escaped from my van," the guard answered. "He used bodily harm to push me away."
His language indicated he was angry. "The f-- wen' push me down, so I f--" His voice halted, then he resumed. "I don't know what he had in his hand," he said.
But he later told the dispatcher that he knew Leialoha was unarmed.
"OK, did he have a weapon?" she asked him.
"No, he didn't have a weapon," the guard replied. "But he broke out of the van, he got out of his restraints and then he crawled under the van, and when I tried to grab him, he (inaudible), he hit me and I fell to the ground, and he was running away and I shot him."
Police and the state Department of Public Safety, which employs the guard, are continuing investigations to determine whether the shooting was justified.
The first witness to make a 911 call, a woman in a truck, felt the shooting was not justified.
"The guy shot the guy, the criminal, but he shot him right behind my window. That's really f-- up. They shouldn't be shooting gunfire around people," she said.
"A convict jumped out of the car (van) and ran into my car (truck), and the guy tried tackle him and slammed him into my truck, and the guy ran away, and then the guy that's like driving the vehicle, (inaudible), just shot him, and he's lying in the middle of the road now," she said.
"Where did he shoot him?" a dispatcher asked another caller.
"Had to be in the back. I did see him running away," the caller said.
University of Hawaii-Hilo political science professor Rick Castberg also questioned the justification for the shooting, citing a 1985 Supreme Court decision that limits the ability of police to shoot escaping suspects.
Before the 1985 ruling in a case called Tennessee v. Garner, the common law, or legal practice, was that authorities could kill escaping suspects. The 1985 decision said, "A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead."
But retired Circuit Court Judge Paul de Silva said he did not think the 1985 case can be applied to jail guards because Hawaii law gives them more power than police to halt escapees.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety could not be reached for comment.