The state Attorney General’s Office and Maui County prosecutors are now reviewing two murder investigations involving officers in the state Department of Public Safety.

One case involved the February shooting death of a homeless man by a deputy sheriff. The other was a March case involving a corrections officer who shot an escaped detainee from the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

The Honolulu Police Department is investigating both cases as murders, and the DPS has declined to identify the deputy sheriff and corrections officer.

OCCC Oahu Community Correctional Center razor wire.

The state Attorney General’s Office and Maui prosecutors are considering charges against two employees in the state Department of Public Safety for shooting deaths earlier this year.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The public safety department is still conducting internal investigations into both incidents, DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said. She said it would be premature and inappropriate to comment on the criminal investigations being conducted by HPD, but said that the department is cooperating with HPD.

In a written statement, Gov. David Ige said he is confident in the process, and won’t comment on the investigations until they are complete.

Both cases were first forwarded to the AG from the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office, office spokesman Brooks Baehr said.

In the February shooting, a deputy sheriff shot Delmar Espejo, 28, in the back at close range. The deputy sheriff, who has been with DPS since May 2017, was placed on restrictive duty following the shooting.

Kevin Takata, administrator of the Criminal Justice Division in the AG’s office, said the office is currently reviewing the Capitol shooting case because it involved a possible felony on state grounds.

The division will decide whether to pursue charges.

In March, a corrections officer at OCCC shot Maurice Arrisgado Jr. in the back after he escaped from an intake facility at the jail. The corrections officer who shot Arrisgado began employment with DPS in August 2013.

The officer was reassigned to an unarmed post following the shooting, Public Safety Director Nolan Epsinda said during a March press conference.

The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s office would not release Arrisgado’s autopsy information when contacted Tuesday. The office cited the pending HPD investigation.

The AG’s criminal justice division typically reviews cases involving shootings by state officers, Baehr said.

Baehr said the prosecutors also forwarded the Arrisgado shooting to the AG to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Arrisgado’s father, Maurice Arrisgado, retired as a deputy prosecutor in 2017. He had 30 years with the department, Baehr said.

Takata said that the AG’s office sent the case to Maui prosecutors to review because of potential conflicts that exist in the office. Takata said that Arrisgado was his supervisor at the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office.

Takata said that the Maui prosecutors will decide whether or not to pursue charges in that case.

Deputy Honolulu Police Chief John McCarthy said he can’t recall dealing with a murder investigation involving a state agency.

“We’ll investigate as thoroughly as we can and see where the facts fall. Where they fall, they fall,” he said.

McCarthy said that HPD had difficulty getting evidence and statements in both cases.

He said that HPD officers are required to make statements for internal investigations following officer involved shootings.

“Other law enforcement agencies, they don’t have to make a statement to us,” he said. “Getting evidence is not so easy.”

Shootings involving HPD officers are always forwarded to the prosecutor to determine whether or not they are justified killings, McCarthy said.

Since 2005, no state or county law enforcement officers have faced homicide charges in Hawaii, according to data on shootings from Bowling Green State University and the Washington Post.

Ken Lawson, who teaches criminal law at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law, said it can be difficult to get convictions for shootings involving law enforcement.

Prosecutors need to consider whether a conviction is likely before pressing charges, he said, and convincing a jury may also be difficult.

“People see police as people that protect us,” Lawson said. “When you have a person who puts their life on the line, it becomes hard to convict a cop.”

Civil Beat reporter Yoohyun Jung contributed to this report.

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