Trying to prevent further killings
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By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Representatives of state and county agencies touched by the recent murders of Cyrus Belt and Janel Tupuola vowed yesterday to work better with one another but gave state lawmakers no easy answers on how to prevent future deaths.
State Rep. Josh Green, chairman of the House Health Committee, began a more than two-hour hearing yesterday by saying, "We can't legislate human behavior. We can't tell people how to live their lives. But what you can do is protect children whenever that opportunity arises."
After the hearing, Green (N. Kona, Keauhou, Kailua, Kona) said he plans to introduce legislation that would require parents to test negative for "ice" for 60 days and be in some form of drug treatment program before they can have their children returned.
The purpose of yesterday's hearing was to review the polices and procedures of the Department of Health, Department of Human Services and law enforcement agencies as they relate to adult mental health services, substance abuse, domestic violence, child protective services and protective orders.
Many of the questions from the legislators focused on the Department of Human Services' handling of the case of Cyrus, who was dropped to his death from a pedestrian overpass above H-1 Freeway on Jan. 17.
Matthew Higa, 23, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the killing and is set for trial March 31.
Cyrus' family laid him to rest yesterday at a service in Kane'ohe.
Green and state Rep. John Mizuno, D-30th, (Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley, Fort Shafter), in particular, wanted to know why Child Welfare Service workers did not immediately investigate a Jan. 11 allegation that the mother of 23-month-old Cyrus — Nancy Chanco — was using "ice" and that there may have been domestic violence in the home.
"It was alleged by the person who called in the report that there was a domestic violence issue," said Amy Tsark, administrator for the Department of Human Services' child welfare services branch. "When the department began working with the mother, there was no basis to confirm that there was any history of domestic violence in the family."
CLEAN TESTS IN 2006
Tsark later said, "there were allegations of drug use by the mother" but Chanco had consistently tested clean for drugs in 2006 and had no subsequent positive tests.
After the Jan. 11 report, "we were going to make further assessments," Tsark said. "At the time, there was no plan for DHS to remove the child."
After the hearing, Green was unsatisfied with the answer.
"That child's case wasn't evaluated on the same day that drugs were reported," he said. "That concerns me. It seems to me that within a day we should check on a case if it's crystal meth. ... There's no question they could change rules immediately and prioritize personnel. That's a concrete milestone that we should be able to achieve."
Nearly all the representatives from the city prosecutor's office and state health and human services departments pledged to better share information about future cases with one another, but said they are often thwarted by their own bureaucracies and state privacy laws.
Dennis Dunn, director of victim witness kokua services for the city prosecutor's office, said his office welcomes "a stronger relationship" with the Department of Human Services' child protective services and child welfare services and with Honolulu police.
"What probably would improve things would be if we had the ability to link ourselves and have closer interaction," Dunn said.
"We need to develop a stronger relationship, maybe a little bit more information sharing." He then said, "sometimes we've seen too much of a divergent path between our purposes. ... Maybe we can try to rededicate to eliminating some of the institutional and legal barriers we have to better cooperation."
The Jan. 16 shotgun beating death of Tupuola, 29, triggered testimony that veered into the complicated social factors involved in domestic violence.
Dunn cited lack of resources for providing help for victims as well as the victims' financial limitations, which may prevent them from moving away from their abusers.
State officials, House members and representatives from the Domestic Violence Action Center then shared personal anecdotes about how they've been touched by domestic violence.
Keith Yamamoto, chief of the Department of Health's alcohol and drug abuse division, said the department is finalizing a plan to help people who suffer from both substance abuse and mental health problems.
"There are a variety of programs that ... work with both mental health and substance abuse clientele," Yamamoto said. "The challenge for us is to figure out how both work together so the kind of services we provide are more effective."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.
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