Lee Cataluna: A Brutal Killing Says So Much About What Honolulu Is Doing Wrong - Honolulu Civil Beat

We just surpassed the halfway point of our campaign, but still have a ways to go! Support in-depth, local journalism today and your gift will be DOUBLED.

Thanks to 999 donors, we've raised $140,000 so far!

Double My Donation

We just surpassed the halfway point of our campaign, but still have a ways to go! Support in-depth, local journalism today and your gift will be DOUBLED.

Thanks to 999 donors, we've raised $140,000 so far!

Double My Donation

About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

So many things went wrong in the last days of Linda Johnson’s life.

Opinion article badge

But the series of events that set up the tragedy of Johnson’s brutal killing didn’t just happen once.

They’ve been going on for years. They happen as a part of the way our community deals with, or doesn’t deal with, the reality of mental illness.

Let’s start with the shameful fact that Johnson was bludgeoned to death outside of the Kapolei police station, just steps from the front door. According to news reports, the killing had to be called into the station.

The cops inside were unaware of the attack that was happening on the police station property. Guess they don’t have a Ring camera. The rest of us do. We have to. Oahu is a dangerous place, and, increasingly, we have to protect and serve ourselves.

This is a terrible addition to, and an escalation of, recent crimes that have taken place right under the cops’ noses. In October 2021, an arsonist set fire to the city-owned surfboard storage rack just outside the Waikiki police station, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

It was, almost unbelievably, the second time someone torched the surfboard rack. The whole area went up in a spectacular blaze in February 2020 in the same spot just feet from the Waikiki substation.

Maybe the cops were all out on patrol and not sitting at their desks. Maybe the substation has a really good air-filtration system so no one on duty inside could smell the smoke. Maybe they just thought the rookie had burned some toast. Whatever. It happened twice.

As Denby Fawcett reported, the Chinatown police substation was recently vandalized. The window on the front door was shattered and temporarily patched with red tape. Maybe the Honolulu Police Department needs to hire private security for its facilities like so many businesses do.

The killing of Linda Johnson happened outside the Kapolei police station because the man charged on suspicion of second-degree murder in the case had just been released from the police station cell block.

Michael Armstrong had been arrested the night before after allegedly causing a disturbance at a group home facility and punching a police officer who responded. He was released when the city prosecutor’s office declined to take the case and instead, asked for further investigation.

So Armstrong, in whatever agitated condition that led to the original call about his behavior and the alleged assault on a police officer, was released with no follow-up, no plan, no guard rails to keep him out of further trouble.

Kapolei Police Station
Linda Johnson was beaten to death on the grounds of the Kapolei police station. The man accused of killing her had just been released from custody. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Linda Johnson was outside the Kapolei police station because she had been arrested, too. Her crime was, essentially, being homeless.

She was arrested for sleeping at Kuhio Beach Park in Waikiki when the park was closed. She ended up in Kapolei because a closer cell wasn’t available. Once released from custody, she had nowhere to go. Hawaii News Now had a terrific story on her long struggle with mental illness. She might have stayed near the police station thinking it was safe.

Instead, she was beaten to death, allegedly by a man whose violence already had been reported to the police.

Here’s the start of the critical to-do list:

  1. HPD needs more police officers.
  2. HPD police officers need to level up.
  3. There has to be a better way to deal with mentally ill homeless people than ignoring them or arresting them. We’ve now had decades of practice, spent tens of millions of dollars and we still haven’t figured it out.
  4. A person arrested for violent behavior needs to be evaluated by a professional for the potential to be a danger to self, danger to others or gravely disabled before being turned loose with nothing in place to help them or prevent them from hurting others.
  5. The city prosecutor’s office needs a reset. It’s like a computer that got overloaded with software and is now glitchy. Steve Alm was elected to rid the stink left behind by the former administration, but it’s not clear that ’90s-era programs like Chinatown Weed and Seed can be effective in the 2020s, especially considering his office’s now toxic relationship with the police department.

This case is too horrible to slip into the fog of forgetfulness or to fall out of the news cycle when something new and outrageous captures the public attention. Honolulu should not be so hardened and cynical that we shrug at the brutality suffered by a woman who was not able to take care of herself.

It represents the worst that can happen when so many things are left unfixed in a community. It was not so much an aberration but an eventuality.

Read this next:

John Pritchett: Who's Next

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

Just goes to show homelessness is out of control and needs to be taken care of. Why should the police do anything when the attorneys get them out before the report is written. I went into Waikiki the other day and it stunk of urine and saw with my own eyes the homeless sleeping on the streets and bothering the tourists. For those who do not want tourists most of our money is from them. When they are gone do to the awful mess in Waikiki and your taxes are so out of control you will be begging for them to come back!

Hello · 1 year ago

Hawaii Revised Statutes include Hawaii's Constitution. Art. IX, § 6 provides: "The State and its political subdivisions, as provided by general law, shall plan and manage the growth of the population to protect and preserve the public health and welfare; except that each political subdivision, as provided by general law, may plan and manage the growth of its population in a more restrictive manner than the State." The word "shall" is crucial to the solution.By now, everyone in the state must have at least a safe, clean, apartment. For those who don't want to go home, or know where home is, there must still be shelter; and for some, a new, clean, heavily secured mental health hospital, built on some of the state's wasted thousands of acres.

solver · 1 year ago

I have a friend who works at a shop next to the police box. If there is trouble, you CANNOT go pound on the door for help. You must call 911 who will then call the Waikiki box. This is extremely inefficient and sets a wall between the police and the citizens they are supposed to protect. Basically they park their cars wherever they want ( loading zones instead of the police zones ) and hide inside.

Claw88 · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.