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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 General Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Megan Kau, candidate for Honolulu prosecutor. The other candidate is Steven Alm.
1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your office? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue is that crime has increased, and criminals have resorted to pushing our kupuna down in the street, leaving them to die there. People have become accustomed to stepping over a person sleeping in his feces and urine and so they do not even think twice about it.
First and most importantly, we will charge all crimes: low- and high-level crimes. We will charge unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle and all other property crimes.
Secondly, the Career Criminal Division will be staffed with experienced deputies. They will fight for extended sentencing and repeat offender sentencing and they will appear at all Hawaii Paroling Authority hearings.
Lastly, we will work with diversion programs (e.g., Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD)) and treatment programs (e.g., Habilitat Inc.) to make treatment more accessible.
2. The Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office has been the subject of a federal corruption probe. What would you do to restore public confidence in the office?
I am the only candidate who assisted the federal government in investigating Katherine Kealoha. I have also represented clients who were targeted by Katherine Kealoha. As such, I know who played what role and to what extent each person participated. I will ask anyone who assisted Katherine Kealoha to resign.
Also, to the ethical extent possible, I will answer all questions posed by the public regarding policies and cases. The office’s position will be that we answer to the public and so long as it is ethical, we will provide the public with information.
3. Because of COVID-19, many of Hawaii’s inmates were released so as to reduce the risk of infection. Where do you stand on this issue?
I do not believe releasing inmates solely because of the pandemic is in the best interest of public safety. A judge has already ruled that this defendant should not be released into the community — because he/she is a flight risk and/or because he/she is likely to re-offend. Being in the midst of a pandemic does not change those factors.
If the defendant is at risk of death because he/she has a pre-existing medical condition, the trial judge may consider that on a case-by-case basis to address that risk. Otherwise, the Department of Public Safety has its own policies in place to deal with this type of situation. Inmates are safer in a facility and the community is safer while inmates are in a facility.
4. The recent police killings of black people in police custody have caused widespread racial unrest throughout the country. What would you do to strengthen police accountability in Hawaii, including the role the prosecutor’s office plays in police use-of-force cases?
The prosecutor does not have authority to direct the Honolulu Police Department. The prosecutor controls the policies and procedures of the prosecutor’s office, while the chief of police controls the polices and procedures of the Honolulu Police Department.
A police use-of-force case must be assessed just as any other case. If a police officer violates the law, he/she must be held accountable and charged. A prosecutor cannot favor charging one type of crime over another. A prosecutor cannot favor charging a certain class of person over another. As such, we would charge police use-of-force cases just like we would charge any other case or person.
5. Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. What would you do to address racism and discriminatory treatment in law enforcement?
A prosecutor’s role is to objectively apply the criminal laws that already exist. A prosecutor does not make law — the Legislature does.
A prosecutor cannot favor a certain race over another. This is how corruption starts. If one prosecutor decides not to charge Hawaiians, the next prosecutor might choose not to charge another race or group of people. This is not justice.
However, a prosecutor can and should lead by example, educate the community on justice, and be active in the community. A prosecutor can educate community leaders on how the justice system works so that those who are in the position to address social and economic issues have the best information to create programs and help the community.
6. Jails and prisons are overcrowded and Hawaii’s correctional facilities are in poor physical condition. What would you do to reduce overcrowding in the jails and prisons?
A prosecutor’s role is to objectively apply the criminal laws that already exist. As prosecutor, I will prosecute cases to the fullest extent of the law and allow the judge or the jury to determine if a defendant is innocent or guilty. Justice will be served because a defendant who is found not guilty is freed, while a defendant who is found guilty is sentenced to either supervision or a term of imprisonment. The length of imprisonment is determined by the court, not the prosecutor.
Incarceration must be relied upon within the criminal justice system. Incarceration is an alternative to treatment; albeit treatment is always the better pathway. But the challenge is that very often a drug user will not get treatment unless he/she is forced to do so. Therefore, in order to get treatment, a defendant has two choices: either:
• Get treatment on his/her own or;
• Get forced into treatment with the threat of incarceration. If a defendant refuses to get treatment, he/she must be incarcerated.
Additionally, that question is better directed at the corrections division: the Department of Public Safety. The criminal justice system works when all phases of the system are operating as required. Police police. Prosecutors prosecute. Judges judge. And the corrections department corrects. Rehabilitation is key here. Hawaii’s correction system could be improved by adding more room, more rehabilitation, more recovery programs, more skill building programs, and more transitional programs. As the prosecutor, I would advocate for this; however, my role as prosecutor in the criminal justice system is to prosecute.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I take every call and answer every question. Since my announcement, I have had hundreds of calls to my personal phone, text messages to my personal phone; calls to our campaign phone, texts to the campaign phone; emails to my work email address, personal email address, and campaign email address; Facebook messages and comments; and Instagram comments and direct messages. I have answered every single question posed.
Also, I have held eight Facebook live events where over an average of 10,000 people watched and asked questions. I have answered every question, except that at some points the questions came in too quickly and we just did not have enough time to answer them. But if the person followed up with me after the Facebook session I either met with them in person, talked to them on the phone, or replied back to their message. I work every day, all day and I love to help people by educating them about the justice system.
8. Gov. David Ige suspended the state laws on public records and open meetings because of COVID-19. Do you think that was appropriate? What will you do to ensure your agency’s business is conducted as openly as possible?
I do not have enough information to determine what factors needed to be considered when this decision was made. As such, I cannot second-guess the decision. However, to the extent possible, the government should be open with the public.
A public official should answer to the public by answering the public’s questions and addressing its concerns. Our office policy will be to make the time to meet with all victims and to guide them through the justice system.
9. What other issue would you like to address or make the voters aware of?
Of all the candidates, I have taken the strongest and most aggressive stance against crime. My opponents want to pick and choose which laws to enforce and prosecute. I promise to fairly prosecute all crimes, both high- and low-level offenses. Violators need to be held accountable for their actions and there must be consequences for bad behavior.
I disagree with eliminating the cash bail system because it is not feasible. Bail is the amount of money set by a judge that a defendant must pay to be released from jail prior to trial. Bail provides an assurance that the defendant will appear in court and will not re-offend while out in the community. Most of my opponents advocate for allowing those charged with a crime to be released from custody back into our community without any supervision.
While I am a strong supporter of rehabilitative treatment, success is ultimately dependent upon an individual’s desire to change. I do not believe a defendant is entitled to, nor will I tolerate, unlimited opportunities to violate the law.