Nuisance abatement laws have been used against uncooperative landlords of game rooms, sometimes as a prelude to civil forfeiture.

Waianae’s illegal gambling scene may soon become endangered if Honolulu Police Department Maj. Mike Lambert has his way.

“I’m very well versed in how to burn down game rooms,” Lambert, who started working narcotics and vice in March, told a gathering of Waianae residents Wednesday. “We’re going to start to see some change.”

Lambert’s incendiary of choice: Warning property owners that their tenants are up to no good.

“The strategy is to go after the property owner because you cannot have the game room without the room,” Lambert said.

Starting in 2014, he said, he helped cut down the number of game rooms from 80 to 32 across the island in 18 months.

At council member Andria Tupola’s “Tough On Crime” community town hall in Waianae, Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm, left, and HPD Maj. Mike Lambert, right, discussed plans to crack down on illegal game rooms. (Jack Truesdale/Civil Beat/2023)

After notifying the owner of illegal activity on the property, Lambert said, he gives the owner the choice to break the tenant’s lease. If not, the owner can lose use of the property for up to a year, he said.

“I’m going to try to work my best,” Lambert said. “Six months, I’ve got to walk in here, tail tucked, if I didn’t do what I said, and I have to eat that. I’m hoping to have some results for you guys by then.”

Some 50 residents applauded.

Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm, who joined Lambert at council member Andria Tupola’s “Tough On Crime” community town hall, said that his office will be filing nuisance abatement complaints against uncooperative landlords that house game rooms. Ones that don’t comply could face civil asset forfeiture, he said.

His office filed one in 2021 against a property in McCully as a “test case.” Now, Alm is assigning a deputy prosecutor to tackle more gambling cases, he said. HPD and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will work together.

An alleged illegal gaming establishment at 845 McCully St. was used as a test case by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, using nuisance abatement laws to disrupt activity there. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022)

“In the next six months we might hit a dozen game rooms and all of them will be followed up with nuisance abatement,” Lambert said. “And depending on their compliance with that order, that’ll determine where we go from there.”

Previous HPD commanders in Waianae tended to use a “volume strategy versus a targeted strategy,” Lambert said. “They were working hard. It was more of a whack-a-mole style.”

After hearing from the officials, residents voiced their concerns about guns and gambling.

Miguel Agoo, whose 17-year-old son Miguel Jr., was shot and killed at Makaha Beach last week, called on the officials to take action against gun violence.

“We keep on crying and crying and crying out and you guys keep on having these town meetings but nothing gets done,” Agoo said. “Mr. Prosecutor, this is for you: What about the gun laws for juveniles?”

Alm’s office indicted the 20-year-old alleged shooter Waylen Armstrong-Kea on second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence, and firearm charges on Wednesday. The prosecutor’s office would not comment on whether it had indicted the alleged second shooter, who is 16 years old.

“In general, if it’s a serious crime, we will do what it takes to get a 16- and 17-year-old to adult court,” Alm told the audience.

Some residents expressed confusion about whether HPD can respond to crimes on Hawaiian homelands. Officials stressed that HPD does indeed have jurisdiction to enforce the law on the homelands.

Sabrina Grace-Dereis approached the microphone and accused three HPD officers of taking bribes from gambling ring operators to look the other way. No evidence was immediately available to corroborate this. Lambert later said, “Any allegation will be reviewed seriously.”

Tupola closed the town hall by stressing family values and the plight of people who have drifted away from God.

“Lost!” she said, moving her hand in an upward S.

Just as the meeting had opened in prayer, it closed in prayer. The woman leading it intoned, “When we change, everything changes.”

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