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Budget cuts led to escape, senator says


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POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

Budget cuts have affected security at the State Hospital and may have been a factor in the escape of a 30-year-old accused child molester Thursday, a Windward Oahu state senator said.

“;The cutbacks at the hospital have exacerbated an already explosive ongoing situation,”; said Sen. Clayton Hee. “;Unfortunately, the response of the administration is such that the health and safety of the workers at the State Hospital, the other patients at the hospital, and most importantly the community has been compromised.”;

David True Seal, who was found not guilty because of insanity for the sexual assault and kidnapping of an 8-year-old girl on Maui in 2001, climbed over a 14-foot security mesh fence Thursday afternoon. Police continued to follow leads yesterday, but he remains at large.

Janice Okubo, Department of Health spokeswoman, said it's difficult to make a direct correlation between cutbacks at the hospital and the escape and other recent incidents.

“;We're doing the best we can with the circumstances that we have to deal with,”; she said. “;Safety is first and foremost.”;

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The Department of Public Safety cut eight security guards at the Kaneohe hospital, Hee said. Those employees were replaced by private security guards who can't detain a patient once they are off hospital grounds, he said.

Assaults, whether verbal or physical, are occurring at the facility on a weekly basis, Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) said.

On the day Seal escaped, three hospital staff members were assaulted by a patient, Hee said.

Okubo confirmed that there was an incident at the hospital the day Seal escaped, resulting in injuries to staff members, but she couldn't disclose details because of patient privacy rights.

Hee said the Hawaii Government Employees Association filed a lawsuit in October against the state because of unsafe working conditions at the hospital.

Okubo said the hospital had 203 patients on Thursday—the maximum for which the state is licensed—while the state prefers to keep the population to about 170.

A police helicopter made periodic checks in Kaneohe yesterday, searching for Seal.

Police continued to check out leads from the public, but police said there have been no confirmed sightings of the escapee.

Police said Seal did not appear to have any money when he escaped and is likely walking or hitching a ride from others.

He is 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighs about 170 pounds, and has brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a black-and-white, long-sleeved flannel shirt and faded denim jeans.

Police said anyone who sees Seal should call police and not approach him.

Seal's escape was the seventh this year from the State Hospital. The other six escapees were recaptured.

The Kaneohe hospital has had an average of six escapes a year for the past five years, ranging from three to nine escapes annually.

Because of privacy laws, Dr. William Sheehan, acting chief of the Adult Mental Health Division, said Friday that he could not say if Seal was considered a high-risk patient.

Seal was last in court this summer when his motion to allow him a conditional release was denied, records show.