Dorm theft case reveals security measure lapses
Lapses in security procedures allowed an Army specialist allegedly to sneak into university dormitories through unlocked fire escape doors.
In all three alleged incidents, the suspect, Army Spc. Mark Heath, got into the University of Hawaii Manoa dormitories through unlocked room doors in three different buildings, according to court documents.
Although campus officials are still investigating how Heath allegedly got into the dorms, acting UH spokeswoman Tracy Orillo-Donovan said the staff did not follow established procedures on Nov. 24, Heath's second alleged entry into the dorms.
That night, Heath allegedly stole handbags from two women living at the Hale Aloha Ilima building. The handbags were later found with $400 missing.
"Staff improperly checked the door, and an outside ground floor was unlocked," Orillo-Donovan said.
Court documents state Heath admitted to getting into the dorms through the fire escape. Orillo-Donovan said housing officials have yet to confirm that assertion.
Heath also is accused of an Aug. 19 incident in which he allegedly tried to cut off the panties of a female student at the Hale Mokihana building.
The woman awoke in the middle of the night to find Heath, whom she did not know, holding scissors near her face. Heath allegedly placed his hand on her genitalia for several seconds before the victim screamed.
And on Nov. 25, Heath is accused of stealing an iPod and women's lingerie from two women's rooms in the Hale Lokelani dorms. In all three instances, the dorm rooms were unlocked.
Heath belongs to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which is preparing to deploy to Iraq later this month.
Police are also looking for a man who allegedly took photos of a 19-year-old woman showering in the Hale Kahawai building on Nov. 30. And on Nov. 26, 21-year-old Preston-Paul Afong was arrested and later charged after he allegedly fondled a 23-year-old female student at the music building.
Orillo-Donovan said campus housing officials are reviewing safety precautions as part of an internal investigation.
She added that the front lobby areas of all four freshman dorms are manned by personnel 24 hours a day. The school also has added increased security rounds.
Hawaii-born freshman Nichole Catlett isn't adopting the usual open-door attitude at the dorms, not after what happened on her floor in August.
She stays at Hale Mokihana, where Heath's first alleged entry occurred. Police came and interviewed her and other students in the middle of the night.
"My door's always closed, always locked," said the 18-year-old journalism major. "I try not to leave my room in the wee hours of morning, too ... and I try to always have my phone with me, too. I have the security number on speed dial."
After hearing about the opened fire escape doors, Catlett said she had seen the doors ajar earlier in the school year.
"Sometimes I see the stairs, the door will be propped open," Catlett said. "So I get very leery."
Hannah Emberson, also a freshman, said she began locking her door after the incident in August, when she just moved in from Santa Cruz, Calif.
"I don't leave my room to go to the bathroom at night," said the 18-year-old speech pathology major. "It would be nice to not have to worry about things like that happening. I didn't at home."