HANALEI, Kauai — The remote island of Kauai is known for its cascading waterfalls, lush green mountains and turquoise seas. Though a visual paradise, the island’s 66,000 residents and 85,000 visitors are challenged each month by an inefficient criminal justice system.
While violent crime is relatively low on Kauai, it has about 2,600 property crimes per year — the highest per capita in the state, according to the latest report available, from 2012. Island residents fed up with Kauai’s property crime have formed a victim’s advocacy group — Citizens Against Thieves — and its 300 members are organizing a campaign to pressure the local judges to keep criminals behind bars.
Bob Warren, co-founder of CAT, was inspired to take action after he and his wife were burglarized three times by the same person. His experience as a victim in Hawaii’s justice system made him realize how dysfunctional that system can be.
He and several other community volunteers have met with police officials and lawmakers to learn more about the inefficiencies.
One problem Warren identified surrounds victims who visit the island but oftentimes cannot return to testify against the alleged criminal, or, if they do return, see the case is delayed at the defense attorney’s request. That has led to more visitors being targeted.
Warren was hoping legislation to allow live video testimony by the victims would pass this past session, but the move was tabled.
Perry, who as the police chief has attended several community forums about Kauai’s crime problem, said he realizes the public is frustrated by criminals who continue to victimize residents and visitors.
“In public meetings that I attend, the public has no idea as to the complexity of our criminal justice system, and how all the pieces have to work in sync in order to be successful toward keeping our community safe while providing needed rehabilitation opportunities for those who are willing to change,” Perry said.
Perry said the state cannot “arrest and incarcerate our way out of this mess.”
Part of the problem with the criminal justice system, Perry said, is that arrests are based on probable cause, whereas a conviction has a much higher standard of proof – “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Police have enough probable cause to arrest someone according to a reasonable person’s standard, but as the standard shifts upwards, witnesses may recant or provide false statements; what was believed to be evidence is rejected through technical proceedings, which hinders the prosecutors,” Perry said. “However, if all the planets are in alignment and we’ve dotted our ‘I’s and crossed our ‘T’s, then it’s up to the courts to convict and incarcerate.”
Hawaii’s shortage of prison space and budgetary concerns limit what can be done.
“Prisons have a set number of bed spaces, and once that number is exceeded there may be civil rights violations. Then there are budgetary concerns, whereby if the capacity is exceeded, the first to be let out are the less dangerous criminal — which usually means people who commit crimes against property,” Perry said.
Through CAT’s any meetings with people involved in the justice system, its members have learned those in the system tend to blame other branches for the growing crime problems and a lack of money to tackle the issue.
Warren said Kauai’s crime problem, which is echoed throughout the state, has to be addressed because it affects the economy, residents’ way of life and Hawaii’s most important industry — tourism.
His group will continue to do what it can to draw attention to the island’s criminal justice problems, propose common sense solutions and campaign to keep criminals with high recidivism rates behind bars. His group is now focused on the case of Kyle Matsumoto, 37, who has been arrested 153 times on Kauai.
Court records show that, since 2000, Matsumoto has been charged with 98 felonies, 51 misdemeanors and four petty misdemeanors. He’s been convicted of 10 felonies and one petty misdemeanor violation; 38 felonies and 46 misdemeanors were dismissed. Matsumoto awaits trial on 50 felonies, five misdemeanors and three petty misdemeanor violations.
In court June 24, Matsumoto entered no-contest pleas in four separate felony cases, and on June 5 he entered no-contest pleas in two other felony cases committed between May 2012 and December 2013.
His crimes include burglary, theft, identity theft, unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle , promoting a dangerous drug, credit card theft and forgery.
Matsumoto, who is being held at the Kauai correctional facility in lieu of $445,000 bail, will be sentenced in six of the cases Oct. 1.
Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry called Matsumoto “the poster child of a system that must be corrected.”