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State/In Brief

The Associated Press

Ex-Honolulu managing director target in US probe

HONOLULU — A legislative aide to a Honolulu city councilman is on paid administrative leave after receiving a letter from federal authorities informing him he’s a target in an investigation.

Roy Amemiya was managing director under former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. He’s now a legislative aide working on special projects in the office of Councilman Calvin Say, who is chairman of the budget committee.

Lyle Hosoda, an attorney who represents Amemiya, said he received the letter on his client’s behalf last week. He declined further comment.

Amemiya is on paid administrative leave, Erika Engle, spokeswoman for the council, said Monday.

It’s not clear what Amemiya is being investigated for. Other city officials have received target letters in connection with a wide-ranging corruption investigation that sent now-retired police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy prosecutor, to prison for a scheme to frame a relative to hide fraud that funded the couple’s lavish lifestyle.

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Fire chief responds to fatal shooting on his Hilo street

HILO — A shooting last week where Hawaii police say they killed a man who fired at officers was close to home for the Big Island’s new fire chief.

Newly appointed Hawaii Fire Department Chief Kazuo Todd told Hawaii-Tribune Herald about responding to a June 13 shooting on the Hilo street where he lives.

“I was coming out of the shower and heard the gunshots going off — and realized that was not the normal illegal fireworks being shot off, considering the pattern,” Todd said. “I had my wife and daughter hide in the closet and put on my uniform, grabbed my medical stuff, turned on my radio, and got in touch with my dispatch to let them know.”

Emergency responders arrived shortly afterwards.

Officers had responded to a Hilo home where there was a report of domestic abuse when a man came out of the house and started shooting at the officers, police said.

An officer fired back, killing the man identified as Ryan Santos, 34.

In a separate Hilo incident Friday, police shot and killed a man they said attacked an officer with a knife.

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Hawaii Headlines

NASA sends squid from Hawaii into space for research

HONOLULU (AP) — Dozens of baby squid from Hawaii are in space for study.

The baby Hawaiian bobtail squid were raised at the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory and were blasted into space earlier this month on a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Researcher Jamie Foster, who completed her doctorate at the University of Hawaii, is studying how spaceflight affects the squid in hopes of bolstering human health during long space missions, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

The squid have a symbiotic relationship with natural bacteria that help regulate their bioluminescence.

When astronauts are in low gravity their body’s relationship with microbes changes, said University of Hawaii professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, who Foster studied under in the 1990s.

“We have found that the symbiosis of humans with their microbes is perturbed in microgravity, and Jamie has shown that is true in squid,” said McFall-Ngai. “And, because it’s a simple system, she can get to the bottom of what’s going wrong.”

Foster is now a Florida professor and principal investigator for a NASA program that researches how microgravity affects the interactions between animals and microbes.

“As astronauts spend more and more time in space, their immune systems become what’s called dysregulated. It doesn’t function as well,” Foster said. “Their immune systems don’t recognize bacteria as easily. They sometimes get sick.”

Foster said understanding what happens to the squid in space could help solve health problems that astronauts face.

“There are aspects of the immune system that just don’t work properly under long-duration spaceflights,” she said. “If humans want to spend time on the moon or Mars, we have to solve health problems to get them there safely.”

The Kewalo Marine Laboratory breeds the squid for research projects around the world. The tiny animals are plentiful in Hawaiian waters and are about 3 inches long as adults.

The squid will come back to Earth in July.

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Hawaii Sports

Hill tabbed as new UH baseball coach

The Maui News

Rich Hill is the new head coach of the University of Hawaii baseball program, UH athletic director David Matlin announced Friday.

Hill is the program’s third Division I head coach, following Les Murakami (1971-2000) and Mike Trapasso (2001-20).

“I am beyond humbled and honored to serve the University of Hawaii as the next head baseball coach,” Hill said in a statement. “I have so much respect for the proud tradition of Rainbow Warrior Baseball and feel blessed to be part of this program. From what Coach Les started and Coach Trapasso built upon, to the great players past and present, it is truly a special culture. I especially want to thank President David Lassner and Director of Athletics David Matlin for giving me and my family this opportunity of a lifetime. They have been phenomenal throughout this process. We look forward to embedding ourselves in the community and bringing our brand of tough, fundamentally strong, winning baseball to the great state of Hawaii!”

Hill comes to Manoa with 35 years of head coaching experience, the last 23 at the University of San Diego. Hill brings a head coaching record of 1,079-738-4 (.594) and most recently led the Toreros to a 33-12 season and a second-place finish in the West Coast Conference in 2021.

At San Diego, Hill went 747-514-4, made it to eight NCAA regionals, earned the program’s first-ever national seed (2007), won seven West Coast Conference titles and coached two national players of the year (Kris Bryant, 2013, Golden Spikes Award; and Brian Matusz, 2008, National Pitcher of the Year).

Under Hill, USD produced three consecutive Major League Baseball first-round picks from 2013-15 — Bryant, Conner Joe and Kyle Holder. The Toreros had 61 players sign a pro contract since 2010, ranking 16th in the country and first among non-Power Five programs.

Before San Diego, Hill led the San Francisco Dons to a 139-144 record over five seasons. Prior to USF, Hill led his alma mater, California Lutheran, from 1988-93, finishing his career there with a 193-80 record.

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Hawaii Headlines

Honolulu police vow to be more transparent after shootings

HONOLULU (AP) — The Honolulu Police Department says it is making changes to be more transparent and address use of force tactics.

The department will hold news conferences within 24 hours of all shootings involving officers, implement training changes including emphasizing de-escalation and cultural sensitivity and enact a near-total ban on shooting in vehicles, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

Interim Chief Rade K. Vanic announced the changes in response to questions earlier this week from the City Council’s executive matters and legal affairs committee.

“It’s good to know you folks are taking this stuff seriously and you are going to provide better training,” Council Chair Tommy Waters told Vanic during the meeting.

The announcement came after police shot and killed a 29-year-old Black man and a Micronesian teen in separate incidents. Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven Alm this week announced murder and attempted murder charges against three officers in connection with the shooting of the teen.

Police said 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap was driving a stolen car linked to an armed robbery, burglary, purse snatching and car theft and led officers on a chase before the shooting.

Officers shot into the car from the sides and rear as it sat on a street after the chase, according to court documents.

It is the first time a police officer has been charged with a crime in connection with a police shooting in at least 45 years, the newspaper reported.

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Hawaii Headlines

Three Honolulu police officers charged in killing of 16-year-old

HONOLULU (AP) — A police officer was charged with murder and two others were charged with attempted murder in connection with the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy, Honolulu prosecutors said Tuesday.

It comes after a grand jury last week declined to indict the officers in the shooting that killed Iremamber Sykap on April 5. Police have said Sykap was driving a stolen Honda linked to an armed robbery, burglary, purse snatching and car theft and led officers on a chase before the shooting.

Officer Geoffrey H.L. Thom fired 10 rounds into the rear window of the Honda “without provocation,” Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter said in court documents. Eight of the shots hit Sykap in the back of the head, back of the neck, upper back and left arm. Sykap died at a hospital.

Officer Christopher Fredeluces fired one shot but did not hit Sykap, Van Marter said.

The prosecutor said that while Thom claimed the Honda rammed his patrol car, body-camera footage didn’t show that. Thom’s patrol car sustained “a few minor paint chips and some black scuffmarks,” Van Marter said.

He said Officer Zackary K. Ah Nee fired multiple times at Mark Sykap, the slain boy’s brother who was also in the car. Mark Sykap suffered gunshot wounds in his right shoulder and right hand.

Police have refused to release body-camera footage from the shooting.

Thom was charged with one count of second-degree murder. Ah Nee and Fredeluces were each charged with one count of attempted second-degree murder. If convicted, each faces life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Interim Honolulu Police Chief Rade Vanic said he was surprised by the prosecutor’s decision to seek charges after a grand jury decided not to indict.

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Hawaii Headlines

Oahu unlicensed adult care facility fined $828,000 amid effort to rein in the industry

HONOLULU (AP) — Two Hawaii health department inspectors showed up at an Oahu home unannounced after a complaint and found it was operating an adult care facility without a license, leading to a fine of more than $800,000.

The $828,000 fine against Island Promise Homes LLC announced Thursday is part of a larger effort in recent years to rein in an industry that has skirted health and safety regulations, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Health officials have fined at least seven adult residential care homes over the past two years and ordered them to stop operating.

Registered nurse Anita Felipe, who operates three licensed adult residential care homes, owns Island Promise Homes, the newspaper reported.

According to the health department, she admitted she was providing care for people in the unlicensed facility.

She didn’t respond to a request for comment, the newspaper reported, and has 20 days to contest the order and seek a hearing.

Efforts by The Associated Press to reach Felipe on Friday weren’t immediately successful.

The announced fine is $1,000 for each day the Waipahu facility was in operation from April 24, 2018, to July 29, 2020 — or 828 days.

State law requires a license for an adult residential care home that charges a fee to provide accommodations to unrelated adults who need help with daily living and health care.

State legislators passed Act 148 in 2018, which authorized the health department to investigate and enter unlicensed care facilities. Health care providers who knowingly refer people to unlicensed care homes can also be fined.

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Hawaii Headlines

Lighting failure closes airport runway in Hilo

HILO (AP) — The Hawaii Department of Transportation has indefinitely closed one of two runways at the Hilo International Airport after the lights went out.

Department spokesman Jai Cunningham said the runway went dark on Friday and airport personnel are trying to determine the cause, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Officials have urged travelers to check with their airlines for possible changes if they are scheduled to fly in or out of the airport during the evening or early morning hours. At least one flight was rerouted to Honolulu so far.

The other runaway remains operational, but it is shorter and cannot accommodate aircraft used in trans-Pacific flights, Cunningham said. The Kona International Airport remains open.

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Hawaii Sports

Alo, Sooners blast past Seminoles, force decisive Game 3 at WCWS

Campbell alum’s homer breaks single-season team record set by UH in 2010

The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Jocelyn Alo knew her hit was gone as soon as she made contact.

The Oklahoma slugger from Hauula, Oahu, blasted a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning, and the Sooners beat Florida State 6-2 on Wednesday to force a decisive Game 3 for the Women’s College World Series title.

It was Alo’s 33rd home run of the season. The USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year added to her school record, but this one was different.

“I did know it was out,” the Campbell High School graduate said. “And I think the last time I circled the bases that quickly was probably my freshman year, my first-ever home run.”

The final game will be played today at 9 a.m. Hawaii time and televised on ESPN. Oklahoma (55-4) is seeking its fifth national championship. Florida State (49-12-1) is trying for its second title in four years.

Alo sent Kathryn Sandercock’s 2-0 pitch over the right-center field fence, giving the Sooners a 3-2 lead. Her blast fired up the crowd of 12,115 mostly Sooners fans at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, which is about 25 miles from Oklahoma’s campus.

The homer gave the Sooners the Division I single-season record for home runs with 159, breaking the mark set by the University of Hawaii in 2010.

“If the record had to be broken, it’s only fitting the one to do it was from the 808!” UH softball tweeted out in congratulating Alo and the Sooners.

Giselle Juarez pitched a complete game for Oklahoma. She gave up two runs in the first inning, then threw six shutout innings and allowed just two hits the rest of the way.

Mackenzie Donihoo and Kinzie Hansen each added two hits for Oklahoma.

Sandercock, who had been dominant during the World Series, started and gave up four earned runs and seven hits in five innings for the Seminoles, who won the opener of the best-of-three final 8-4 on Tuesday.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Sandercock said. “We knew they were a great team. We knew they were going to make adjustments in the box. So that’s what we got. That’s what we saw. And this is why it’s a three-game series. You’ve got to beat us twice or we’ve got to beat them twice. So we’re ready to get after it tomorrow.”

Florida State’s Elizabeth Mason hit a two-run homer in the first, giving the Seminoles an early lead.

Oklahoma’s Jana Johns homered to left field in the third, a shot that hit the 300-foot slow-pitch fence on one bounce.

Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings reached base on a throwing error in the sixth before Alo’s homer, which highlighted a four-run outburst in the inning.

“It was definitely Jocelyn Alo that kind of created this energy, and everybody just started to step up behind her,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said.

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Hawaii Headlines

Officers not indicted in Honolulu shooting that killed teen

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Grand jurors have declined to indict three Honolulu police officers in a shooting that killed a 16-year-old boy.

The Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office said it presented evidence to a grand jury Wednesday seeking indictments of the three officers. The grand jury declined to return indictments for any of the officers in the April 5 shooting that killed Iremamber Sykap, it said.

Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm is also investigating an April 14 Honolulu police shooting that killed 29-year-old Lindani Myeni.

Police said Sykap was driving a stolen Honda linked to an armed robbery, burglary, purse snatching and car theft and led officers on a chase. Medical records provided by an attorney representing Sykap’s mother and grandmother in a lawsuit say the teen was shot in the back of the head and shoulders.

Police have refused to release officer body camera footage from the shooting.

“Police work is difficult, and officers must sometimes make split-second decisions in potentially deadly situations,” interim Police Chief Rade Vanic said. “Despite the many challenges, we will continue to do the best we can to protect and serve our community. We are appreciative of the jury’s time and consideration.”

Eric Seitz, an attorney representing Sykap’s family, said he wants to see transcripts from the grand jury proceedings.

“My clients are very distressed about the news that they got today,” he said, adding that he wants prosecutors to explain to the family what happened.

“They’ve had no contact from the prosecutor’s office,” he said. “We had no knowledge of what was going on.”

Transcripts will be the only way the public can know what evidence prosecutors presented during the secret proceedings, said Kenneth Lawson, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s law school.

“You’ve heard you can indict a ham sandwich. It doesn’t take much to get an indictment from a grand jury,” he said.

Lawson said he’s not surprised there are no indictments, partly because the teen was Micronesian.

“Micronesians in Hawaii are viewed the way Black and brown people are viewed on the Mainland — less than,” said Lawson, who is Black.

Jacquie Esser, a state deputy public defender not involved in the case, said she’s also not surprised. “Grand juries largely favor police, so it’s no surprise that they came back with a no bill” of indictment, she said.

Prosecutors could still seek charges against the officers through a preliminary hearing, where a judge determines if there’s probable cause, she said.

“The Department is still reviewing the matter and won’t be commenting further at this time,” said Matt Dvonch, special counsel to the prosecuting attorney.

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Hawaii Headlines

Virus outbreaks in Hawaii jails prompt inmate lawsuit

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — A class-action lawsuit on behalf of Hawaii inmates says the state has failed to protect people from COVID-19 outbreaks in unsanitary jails.

Nearly half of the people in Hawaii custody have contracted the virus, and five out of nine facilities have experienced “uncontrolled outbreaks,” resulting in at least nine deaths, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit describes conditions including inmates with no symptoms or negative test results being in the same cell as those who have tested positive or who have symptoms, cells that aren’t sanitized or cleaned when virus-positive inmates move out and a new person moves in, and prisoners pressed up against each other while lining up for meals.

The Department of Public Safety has been advised not to comment on pending legal matters, and the state attorney general’s office will file a response in court, said Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the department, which operates and manages eight jails and prisons in Hawaii. About 1,000 inmates convicted in Hawaii are at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz.

Although some residents and staff members have been vaccinated, the disease can still spread, the lawsuit said, adding that state officials “must have an effective plan to educate and encourage the individuals in its custody, as well as its staff, to accept vaccination.”

Because residents are coming and going for court hearings, an outbreak can easily spread to the surrounding community, the lawsuit said.

Attorney Eric Seitz, who is representing the inmates, said he will ask a judge to appoint someone to ensure that correctional facilities are complying with public health guidelines.

He prepared a motion to file in the case, but the lawsuit was transferred to the federal court system on Tuesday, at the request of the state, Seitz said.

The motion notes that nearly half of the inmate population at the Big Island correctional center tested positive within a span of two weeks in May and June and further describes conditions, including ailing detainees within “six feet from a bathroom which is routinely flooded with human urine and feces,” and inmates sleeping on mats mere inches apart.

“Their requests to use the bathroom are frequently denied, forcing detainees to urinate in their drinking cups,” the motion said.

A failure to provide regular bathroom access led to a disturbance at the jail on Friday, the motion said. The disturbance was “quickly contained” with no major injuries after a lockdown in one housing module, the public safety department said in a news release, which said the cause of the unrest is under investigation.