911 tapes detail shooting of inmate
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
HILO, Hawai'i — The corrections officer who shot and killed a fleeing inmate in downtown Hilo last week told a 911 dispatcher he was concerned the inmate had used "bodily harm" to get away, and that the inmate might have had something in his hand, according to recordings of the 911 tapes released yesterday.
However, the corrections officer also told the emergency dispatcher that inmate Thane K. Leialoha, 28, was unarmed when Leialoha was shot.
The officer, a five-year employee of the state Department of Public Safety, has been placed on paid leave while police and Public Safety investigators look into the shooting.
However, Public Safety interim director Frank Lopez has said he does not want to give the public the impression that the corrections officer did anything wrong. State law and Public Safety regulations authorize the use of lethal force to prevent inmates from escaping.
Leialoha was being moved in a prison van from District Court in Hilo to the Hawai'i Community Correctional Center on April 11 when Leialoha escaped from the van at the intersection of Keawe and Haili Streets at about 2:07 p.m.
According to the 911 tapes released yesterday, a woman who called police to report the incident said a corrections officer tried to tackle Leialoha against her truck, and then fired at him when Leialoha broke free and fled down Haili Street.
The woman said the officer "shot him like, right behind my window. Like, that's really (expletive) up. They shouldn't be shooting gunfire around people, and they just slammed him into my car."
The woman is not identified because police removed all names and other personal information from the tape before it was released.
The corrections officer who fired the single shot that killed Leialoha also called for help. In one exchange with the 911 dispatcher, he explained Leialoha was unarmed.
"No, he didn't have a weapon but he broke out of the van," the officer said. "He got out of his restraints and then he crawled under the van, and when I tried to grab him, he hit me, and I fell to the ground, and I got up and he was running away, and I shot him."
In another exchange, the dispatcher asked, "OK, why did you shoot him?"
"He escaped from my van."
"He escaped from your van?" the dispatcher repeated.
"Yeah, you see there was, he used bodily harm to push me away, he'd run away," the officer said.
At one point during the call, the officer apparently began to speak to someone at the scene of the shooting, explaining again what had happened.
He told the person at the scene, "That (expletive) wen' push me down, so I wen' (expletive), I don't know what he had in his hand, the (expletive)."
Leialoha had been convicted of second-degree robbery, theft and second-degree assault in 1998, and third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug in 2002. Public Safety officials were returning him to prison for a parole violation when he escaped and was shot.
Reach Kevin Dayton at firstname.lastname@example.org.