Violators among us: Dangers when second chances are taken for granted

The criminal justice system gives plenty of second chances, even third chances or more. But what happens when terms of supervised release are broken?

On the night of Jan. 23, it was hard to miss Nicolas Nakano if you were in the Kahala area.

“I don’t know if I was going to get shot, right?” witness Lance Kidani said.

“He was screaming and yelling and cursing,” witness Andy Butler recalls, “and he definitely was resisting arrest. There was just a huge number of policemen out on the street obviously they had been pursuing him.”

But somehow Nakano had managed to elude authorities since late last year, before this chase that police say ended with him flipping over in a stolen car and shooting at police. He’d gotten out of prison in October, and by December was wanted on a parole violation warrant.

“He used illegal drugs, marijuana and methamphetamine,” said Hawaii Paroling Authority Administrator Tommy Johnson. “We were trying to assist him and deal with that, but he moved without informing his parole officer and therefore his whereabouts were unknown, and that is simply unacceptable.”

And yet that scenario happens over and over with some parolees.

“The vast majority is substance abuse use and failure to stay in contact with their parole officer,” Johnson said when asked the main reasons why those who fail on parole run into trouble.

KHON2 obtained a list of parole violators. It’s a snapshot in time because it can change day by day, but this list shows 76 wanted offenders, the oldest warrant dating back to 2005.

KHON2 asked, how are they let out if eventually HPA won’t know where they are?

“When we see them at parole hearings before parole we make sure they have a place to stay, a verified place to stay, a way to make a living, and they’ve completed all their recommended programs to give them all the tools they need to be out in the community,” said HPA Chairman Bert Matsuoka.

But every so often, they choose to violate the terms of that release.

“Law enforcement is looking for them,” Johnson said. “But these guys have gone underground. Remember these guys they’re involved in a subculture and criminal activities.”

While some indeed seem gone without a trace, others flaunt their lifestyle, even on Facebook where we found a few, including Nakano. That doesn’t mean authorities aren’t also following them there.

“I’m sure law enforcement has their own way they investigate and locate offenders through electronic means,” Johnson said, “or other means of catching this person.”

But just going out and getting them is easier said than done

“We don’t have enough people,” said Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. “The police are overburdened with what they have to do.”

Parole warrants become the problem of the sheriffs, police, and even U.S. Marshals. And this is on top of all the other warrants authorities have to track, like the probation violators too.

There’s a list of non-traffic warrants at more than 15,000 for Honolulu alone. The Judiciary lists 1,100 probation violation warrants just on Oahu as of Thursday.

Among the wanted on the parole list is a convicted murderer, Magdaleno Fuentes, with a warrant dating back to 2011. According to the paroling authority, there’s credible evidence he fled the islands.

“If they can’t supervise him then he should not be out on parole,” Kaneshiro said. “They present a danger to community. They are going to commit crimes.”

KHON2 asked the HPA, is the parole board being too lenient then in some of these cases?

“Some say we’re too strict,” Matsuoka said. “We make the best call we can. They can give us the best story they can, and we know that.

They’re going to put their best foot forward when they come before the parole board and ask for parole.”

While the vast majority of parolees — 1,500 or so at any given time — are abiding the terms and turning their lives around, authorities say those like Nakano keep finding their way back to a life of crime

“One time I can see you give them a break, but two times, they should be in prison already,” Kaneshiro said. “Why do we keep on putting them out in the community?”

At just 32, Nakano has already been arrested 30 times, convicted 22 times, even seven felonies as a youth offender.

KHON2 asked HPA, it seems like a revolving door — how do you stop it or at least slow it down?

“Besides having a crystal ball, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when, because in dealing with this segment of the population the likelihood of something occurring, it’s going to happen. At what point do you say we’re just going to throw you away? It’s still an individual.”

KHON2 asked the prosecutor, what can be done to cut down on this number?

“Better supervision, better screening of the people that they are releasing,” Kaneshiro said, “but the most important thing is we need to have a new prison to get additional bed space.”

But even with the parole failures, those doing the releasing say it’s better than no parole at all.

“We can keep everybody until they max out, then they will be in prison until the last day then they’re out,” Matsuoka said. “Common sense is you’re probably have more problems from that.”

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