Rep. Gene Ward is among state lawmakers criticizing the mental health and judicial systems that allowed a Mililani man to walk free moments before he allegedly killed a homeless woman near the steps of the Kapolei police station in February.
“I find it totally unacceptable,” said Ward. “How can you get bludgeoned outside a police station?”
Ward was referring to the death of Linda Johnson, who Michael Armstrong allegedly hit over the head with a tree trunk outside of the police station.
Ward has been in communication with Johnson’s brother about proposing a law in Linda’s honor. It would provide authorities with next of kin contact information for unhoused or mentally ill people who are incarcerated. It also would force law enforcement to call that point of contact after a release.
Ward said Johnson’s brother would have picked up his sister in “a heartbeat.”
He and other lawmakers wanted answers as to how the justice system created an opportunity for Armstrong to walk out of the police station.
Both he and Rep. Greggor Ilagan introduced a resolution last month that urged Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm, Honolulu Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic, Attorney General Holly Shikada and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Johnson’s murder.
However, House Resolution 113 – which would have also called on the group of law enforcement leaders to research the impact of releasing prisoners with criminal pasts – never made it to a hearing and ultimately died this session. Ward was frustrated by that result.
In the meantime, Ward said more individuals besides Armstrong need to be held accountable for Johnson’s death.
“Give me a break, that’s embarrassing,” Ward said of the events that led to Armstrong’s release.
Armstrong is no stranger to law enforcement. In 2007, he was charged with felony burglary and was acquitted by reason of insanity. For years, the 35-year-old – who suffers from bipolar and schizophrenia disorders – had been under the care of the state and was hopping between community group homes and the Hawaii State Hospital.
In February, Armstrong allegedly assaulted a group home worker in Mililani where he was living.
When an officer arrived at the group home to speak to the victim, Honolulu police said Armstrong blindsided the officer. After a brief physical altercation, Armstrong was taken into custody and jailed on two felony assault charges.
Later, Armstrong was released.
In a written statement, Alm said that a follow-up investigation “was needed” to determine whether a charge of assault against a law enforcement officer in the first degree, a felony, was warranted, as opposed to assault against a law enforcement officer in the second degree, a misdemeanor.
There was a question, Alm said, of whether Armstrong knew the man he was allegedly assaulting was a uniformed police officer.
“We did not want to immediately charge Armstrong with a misdemeanor because he would have gone to court the next day and likely pled guilty, which would have foreclosed us from later charging him with felony assault of the HPD officer if the follow-up investigation showed such a charge was appropriate,” Alm said.
Armstrong was ultimately released and walked out of jail. Alm said “as is routinely done when more investigation is needed on felony charges, HPD and the Department agreed that Armstrong would be released pending that further investigation.”
Later that day, he returned to a cell block, after being arrested for allegedly beating Johnson.
Alm and the AG’s office did not comment further on the case, pending Armstrong’s prosecution. HPD did not respond to a request for an interview.
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Maria Cid Medina is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist with a background in print. She resides and reports in the San Francisco Bay Area and has covered a wide range of stories from crime to corruption and housing issues.