Hawaii State Hospital escapee Randall Saito was arrested early Wednesday morning in Stockton, Calif. View the full update here.
A patient missing from Hawaii State Hospital has a violent past, and his escape is once again raising concerns about public safety.
Police say Randall Saito, 59, left Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe at around 9 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12, and never returned.
He used a cell phone to call Charley’s Taxi, which picked him up at Kaneohe District Park and took him to an area off Lagoon Drive near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
According to the Honolulu Police Department, Saito then boarded a charter plane to Kahului.
Detectives with the Maui Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division were able to confirm that Saito arrived on Maui. After reviewing video footage from Kahului Airport, they determined that on Sunday, Nov. 12, Saito boarded a flight for California.
Honolulu police confirm he landed in San Jose at around 5:30 p.m. Hawaii time Sunday, three hours before the public was even notified he was missing.
Police say hospital staff called 911 to report Saito’s disappearance shortly after 7:30 p.m. A second-degree escape case was initiated, and an all-points bulletin was issued at 8:30 p.m.
Detectives passed on the information to all state agencies involved in the search for Saito as well as assisting agencies in California. The U.S. Marshals Service is also participating in the search.
The attorney general’s office charged Saito with escape in the second degree, a felony offense, and a $500,000 bench warrant was issued. Law enforcement authorities in all 50 U.S. states can enforce it.
Saito was accused of murdering Sandra Yamashiro in 1979 at Ala Moana Center.
Police discovered her body sprawled in the front seat with multiple stab wounds to her chest and back.
Two years later, Saito was acquitted by reason of insanity.
We had several questions for the Department of Health, which oversees the hospital, but officials had little to say, citing patient privacy laws.
The department issued the following statement on Monday:
“The Hawaii State Hospital staff takes all escapes seriously and has safeguards in place to minimize the chances of these from occurring. A thorough investigation is now underway to gather more details to identify areas for improvement.
“To comply with federal and state privacy laws, the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) may not disclose information on Hawaii State Hospital patients.
“We are also aware of the need to support the safety of the public and per protocol, any escape is reported to law enforcement to expedite searches for patients, including the patient who escaped from the Hawaii State Hospital on Sunday.”
Hours-long gap between escapee’s missed check-in and public alert goes unexplained
So how much time did Saito have to get out of the state before anyone started looking for him?
State hospital officials tell us they notified the Department of Public Safety shortly after they realized Saito was missing.
DPS tells us that sheriffs were notified at 8:30 p.m. and the Nixle alert to the public was issued 10 minutes later.
But that was already several hours after he had gone missing. DPS says Saito was supposed to check in at 11 a.m., and HPD’s CrimeStoppers released surveillance photos of Saito leaving the hospital at 9 a.m.
KHON2 asked health officials: “You do realize there was a big gap several hours before the notification that probably allowed this man to get out of the state because of that gap?”
“There are a lot of things that may have happened which may have allowed to occur. All of those have to be understood thoroughly,” replied Dr. Mark Fridovich, Adult Mental Health Division, Department of Health.
“The Nixle alert said he didn’t check in at 11 o’clock in the morning Sunday,” KHON2 said.
“Yes,” said Dr. William May, Hawaii State Hospital administrator.
“But you didn’t realize he was missing until 8 o’clock at night?” KHON2 asked.
“Once again, this is all going to come out in the investigation. I really just, I can’t comment on that,” May said.
Hospital administrators tell us they can’t really say why there was that gap until Saito is apprehended and the criminal investigation is finished.
“When those two pieces are done, apprehension and criminal investigation, then there will be an opportunity to review the administrative dimensions and to figure out answers to the good questions that you’re asking,” said Fridovich.
“But notifying the public is something that you’ve admitted to for years that you’re working to improve,” KHON2 pointed out.
“And obviously, we have room,” Fridovich replied.
It’s still not clear how Saito was able to leave hospital grounds on his own.
We asked about the possibility that Saito might have gotten some help from staff. Officials say they can’t say, but if it turns out that it happened, appropriate steps will be taken.
Officials say there are 220 security cameras all around the facility. We asked why security cameras were not able to alert them when Saito left the hospital.
“There’s a bank of monitors. There’s hundreds of cameras. You’ll be looking at different cameras. Had somebody seen him walk away, then obviously they would have sounded the alarm,” May said.
“But there are people monitoring the cameras?” KHON2 asked.
“Yes,” May replied.
“How many? KHON2 asked.
“One,” May said.
“It’s not a custodial environment. It’s not a prison environment where people are locked up for periods of time regardless. We at the Adult Mental Health Division and at Hawaii State Hospital have an obligation to treat individuals in the least restrictive setting, and that means as part of their rehabilitation, affording them the opportunity to explore relative autonomy and some independence around their movement. They’re not just locked up. They’re not just subject to treatment or given medication, but they’re given opportunities to pursue individual interests and individual activities.
“We are continuing to cooperate the highest priority at this moment is working with law enforcement to complete a thorough investigation of what happened and hopefully to return the individual to custody at the earliest possible moment. That’s the highest priority. So we’re working HPD, Honolulu Police Department in the lead to take what steps necessary they can to identify where the individual is, and hopefully return him to state custody at the earliest possible opportunity. Obviously there may be a variety of issues that law enforcement’s involved with that other law enforcement branches can help with and we may or may not have information that’s germane to that, but we’re providing the information that we can to assist law enforcement in their investigation and get the individual back into state custody.
“It may be that that investigation and the retrieval of the individual, his returning to custody may reveal that there’s a criminal investigation, an investigation into criminal actions which may have occurred. And so that investigation as the pursuit of the fugitive will be handled by law enforcement, not by the Department of Health. We’re cooperating, but those two pieces, a possible criminal investigation and return of the individual to custody will be handled by law enforcement.
“After any possible criminal investigation is complete, there will be a thorough administrative inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the event, and that will have to await completion of any possible criminal investigation.”
Prior attempts to leave the hospital
Prosecutors tell us that in 2015, Saito filed a motion requesting permission to leave the hospital and go unescorted to Koolau Clubhouse, a rehabilitation facility that helps patients reintegrate to society.
Prosecutors argued against it and the judge agreed, but Saito was allowed to go the the facility regularly with an escort.
“We opposed any kind of release to the community, not that he wasn’t fit, but because of the risk of danger he posed. We weren’t comfortable with him being out there, even with an escort going to the clubhouse,” said deputy prosecutor Wayne Tashima.
Two of the three doctors who evaluated him found Saito mentally unfit. The report said “assessments in the past have shown problems with lack of empathy, lack of remorse, and failure to accept responsibility.” It added that Saito “continues to be superficial in his relationships with others and manipulative.”
The doctors assessed Saito as a moderate risk of danger to the community unless under strict supervision.
Related Coverage: From KHON2’s archives: Randall Saito requests conditional release
“Why do you feel he’s still a danger?” KHON2 asked.
“Well once he committed a crime, we feel that he always has it in him to commit the crime or another crime similar to that,” Tashima replied. “It never leaves a person as far as we’re concerned, so that’s why he maintains that high risk or moderate risk of danger to the community if he’s not escorted, if he’s not being watched by someone.”