No employees will face disciplinary action for Randall Saito’s 2017 escape from the Hawaii State Hospital after an investigation by the Attorney General’s office, it was announced Wednesday.

Six employees were placed on leave last year, pending the investigation’s findings. Two have retired, and the other four will return after retraining, Attorney General Russell Suzuki said at a press conference.

Suzuki’s investigators found that the hospital’s lax standards and regulations were to blame for the escape. Since 1996, the number of court-ordered or “forensic” patients has grown dramatically, and internal security measures have not kept pace with the changing patient profile, the investigators found.

Escaped hospital patient Randall Saito points to a guard as he sits in an inmate visitor's booth at San Joaquin County Jail before a scheduled court hearing in French Camp, Calif., Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Saito, who escaped from a psychiatric hospital in Hawaii, was captured as the result of a tip from a taxi cab driver. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

Randall Saito was held in the San Joaquin County Jail after he was captured in Stockton, California.

AP

In 1996, 71 percent of state hospital patients had been ordered there by the courts. Today, nearly all are there under court orders.

Although there had been several prior escapes, Saito’s ability to slip out, catch a taxi and board a charter plane heading to Maui then another plane to California stunned state officials.

“This was a wake-up call,” said Bruce Anderson, director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

Attorney General Russell Suzuki, left, and Health Department Director Bruce Anderson discuss the escape at a press conference Wednesday.

Terri Langford

The state hospital has struggled for years to treat the increasing number of patients who are not competent to stand trial. In the 1990s, a federal lawsuit was filed against the state of Hawaii for its warehousing of mentally ill criminal defendants in the state prison system.

Anderson said the federal lawsuit was one of the reasons why the state hospital has been less a prison and more of a therapeutic facility. Since Saito’s escape, more security measures have been put in place including a security fence and more security doors inside. This past year, there have been no escapes.

Saito was sent to the hospital in 1981 after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the shooting and stabbing death of Sandra Yamashiro in a mall parking lot.

Suzuki said Saito had been a model patient with no disciplinary history at the time of his escape. He was captured in Stockton, California.

Suzuki said a separate criminal investigation is ongoing and would focus on exactly how Saito was able to get cash and a cell phone to facilitate his escape.

Saito has been ruled competent to stand trial for escape. He is currently in jail.

 

Our journalism needs your help.

While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.

About the Author