The Hawaii Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board urged prosecutors on Oahu and the Big Island not to file charges against police involved in the deaths of four people, including a parolee who was fatally shot.

The nine-member board, which reviews police-involved fatalities, recommended against criminal prosecution in an apparent uptick in activity as the Legislature considers a bill to allow the temporary board to operate indefinitely.

The four recommendations that were published on the board’s website last week raises the board’s total to 16 since it was created in 2017 by a measure that allowed the board to operate until the end of June 2022.

In all but one of the cases the board has reviewed, it has found officers to be justified in their actions and has yet to recommend a case be prosecuted. The only exception came late last month when the board released a recommendation calling for further review into the death of Delmar Espejo, a man shot to death by a deputy sheriff at the State Capitol on Feb. 18, 2019.

The Hawaii Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board recently released four new recommendations on police-involved deaths. Screenshot/2021

The board did not respond to a question about the increase in recommendations or requests to release the police documents used to make the recommendations.

Three of the people who died — Peter Purcell, Isaiah Pamaaberilla and Caillen Gentzler — were on Oahu while Charren Ornellas died on the Big Island.

Gentzler, 45, was the only person included in the four recommendations who was fatally shot by officers. Purcell, Pamaaberilla and Ornellas died while in police custody.

The Honolulu Police Department said that plainclothes officers shot Gentzler to death in Kaneohe in December 2020 after he drove toward the officers trying to serve a warrant that would revoke Gentzler’s parole. Then-Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said that Gentzler was wanted in connection with a kidnapping, but further details have not been provided about the case.

Gentzler’s wife sued the city for wrongful death alleging that the officers used “unnecessary, unwarranted, and unjustified” deadly force by shooting Gentzler, who was unarmed, when he was not an immediate threat to the officers.

The complaint also claimed that the officers fatally shot Gentzler in the head after he locked himself in his vehicle and backed into a parked car. It accused the officers of opening fire on the vehicle again after it slowly rolled backward and stopped against an apartment building.

The Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board, which makes recommendations on whether officers should be criminally prosecuted, said the shooting was justified because the officers were acting in self-defense and the defense of others, according to the recommendation letter sent to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm.

Purcell, 52, died in October 2019 after he became unresponsive while being restrained by police at a relative’s home in Pearl City, according to an autopsy report from Honolulu’s medical examiner.

The autopsy report said police were called to the home after Purcell suffered a delirious episode possibly caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Purcell then struggled with witnesses and the arriving officers until he became unresponsive while in handcuffs and leg shackles, the report added. He was transported to Pali Momi Medical Center and pronounced dead. The autopsy attributed his death to cardiac arrest caused by heart disease.

Pamaaberilla, 28, died in June 2020 while in police custody after officers responded to an argument on Ka Hanahou Circle and found him in a vehicle that did not belong to him, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said at the time.

Pamaaberilla — identified as Isaiah Pama by police, but Isaiah Pamaaberilla by the board — became combative and began struggling with officers and a bystander before being placed in handcuffs and shackles, Yu said. He then became unresponsive and died at the scene.

The board recommended against charges for the officers involved in both Honolulu in-custody deaths as well as the officers involved in the death of Ornellas, who died in Hawaii County Police Department Custody in March 2021.

Big Island police said Ornellas, 29, died following a physical altercation with a relative of the owner of a home in which Ornellas was allegedly trespassing.

Both Ornellas and the man he was fighting with were injured when police arrived, the department said. Officers took Ornellas into custody and found him unresponsive. He was then revived by Hawaii Fire Department personnel, but died after he was transported to Kona Community Hospital.

The board found that the investigation into Ornellas’ death was fairly conducted and recommended against prosecution in the case.

The board’s recent spate of recommendations comes as House Bill 1239, which would make the board a permanent state fixture, awaits a full Senate vote. If it does not pass, the board will be disbanded by July.

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