BY AUDREY McAVOY and MARTHA BELLISLE
HONOLULU (AP) — More than a dozen escapes have occurred over the past eight years at a Hawaii psychiatric hospital where a patient described as dangerous walked off the grounds and made it to California before he was captured this week.
Many of the 17 escapes between 2010 and this year happened when a patient broke “curfew” and didn’t return to the Hawaii State Hospital after being allowed to leave for a period of time, according to information obtained by The Associated Press from police and the state Department of Health.
In the case of Randall Saito, the 59-year-old man left the hospital Sunday, took a taxi to a chartered plane bound for the island of Maui and then boarded another plane to San Jose, California, police said. He was captured Wednesday morning in the city of Stockton after authorities got a tip from a taxi driver.
Saito was committed to the hospital outside Honolulu in 1981 after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting and stabbing death of a woman, whose body was found in her car at a mall. Saito was permitted to roam the hospital grounds with an escort, but he did not have permission to leave the hospital campus without supervision.
It took the hospital at least eight hours to notify law enforcement that Saito was missing. On Wednesday, Dr. Virginia Pressler, director of the Hawaii Department of Health, said an internal inquiry indicated that workers inadvertently or intentionally neglected to supervise Saito or notify their supervisors. The apparent failures were spread through several shifts of works, she said. Seven hospital employees have been placed on unpaid leave as the investigation continues.
Sunday’s escape was the latest in a series of similar incidents at the Hawaii hospital in recent years, the documents obtained by the AP show. Among the 17: In March 2013, a patient upset about earlier disciplinary actions fled after punching a staffer who was in a vehicle trying to convince the man to return. The man was later apprehended. In March 2010, a patient attempted to escape by using a bed sheet as a rope and climbing over a perimeter fence. In November 2015, a patient who had a history of “threatening/assaultive behavior” went unescorted to the cafeteria and didn’t return. The patient was later apprehended.
The AP initially requested information from dozens of states, including Hawaii, about escapes from psychiatric facilities following a 2016 breakout in Washington state by a man accused of torturing a woman to death. Anthony Garver crawled out of a window of his ground-floor room at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Washington, rode a bus 300 miles (480 kilometers) and was captured days later.
After the escape, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee fired the hospital’s CEO and brought in the Corrections Department to inspect the building for security improvements. A review of police reports by AP found 185 instances in the 3 ½ years before Garver’s escape in which Western State patients escaped or walked away.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige has said the public and authorities should have been notified much sooner about Saito. The state has started reviewing patient privileges and public visitation polices at the hospital and is boosting the frequency of unannounced patient searches and ordering more fencing.
Officials have not provided details about how Saito was able to charter a plane and then fly on another plane to California. Video footage from inside the taxi that drove Saito to the chartered flight shows him using a cellphone after climbing in with a backpack. During the ride, he makes two calls. “I’m on my way,” Saito said to someone he called Mickey.
A few minutes later, he makes another call: “Is this the captain that’s going to fly to Maui today? Hi. Hi, its’ me. I’m on my way.”
The state has said when court-ordered patients “leave the grounds without authorization” police search for the person. In police reports the incidents are listed as “Escape.” The 202-bed facility is the state’s only publicly-funded state psychiatric facility, located northeast of Honolulu.
Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Department of Health, told the AP last year the majority of escapees are returned within a few days, however in 2009 one person escaped and was missing for nearly three years before being arrested.
Police reports about previous escapes from the Hawaii hospital detail the fragile mental state of the escapees. One woman who broke curfew in November 2014 was described as “psychiatrically unstable” to a judge before her escape.
Hawaii last year increased its contract with a secure forensic facility in South Carolina from three to four beds to house people who cannot be safely treated because of dangerous behaviors, according to the hospital’s 2017 annual report to the Hawaii Legislature. The report said the hospital made strides reducing the number of staff assaults and injuries since 2013.
There were 76 assaults on staff members last year, a decrease from 145 in 2013, according to the report.
Bellisle reported from Seattle. Contributing to this reporter were Associated Press reporters Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Caleb Jones in Honolulu.
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