Honolulu police inadvertently free suspect wanted in felony case

The error reveals a serious lapse in the Honolulu Police Department’s practices and procedures when it comes to escapes

Leila Fujimori
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU — When Honolulu police arrested a 36-year-old suspected felon on Nov. 1, he had been on the run for more than a month after escaping from court-ordered custody at Kahi Mohala.

But police released Gregory LaBar a day later without charges and without knowledge of his escape the night of Sept. 28 from the Ewa Beach mental health facility.

The error reveals a serious lapse in the Honolulu Police Department’s practices and procedures when it comes to escapes.

“Gregory LaBar’s escape status should have shown up when he was arrested,” HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said Monday. “It is unclear why it did not, and the department is currently reviewing the notification and reporting procedures for escapes.”

LaBar, suspected of terroristic threatening while shoplifting on Kauai, was committed by a Kauai circuit judge to the custody of the Department of Health and placed in Kahi Mohala Behavioral Health after being found unfit to stand trial.

After his escape, he was arrested for being in a Waikiki park after hours. That’s when police discovered he was wanted for a robbery in Texas and there was an extradition hold on him, Yu said.

An HPD detective contacted authorities in Webb County, Texas, but they declined to extradite him, a costly proposition.

The detective told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that “nothing showed up” in the local database, so he released LaBar. The detective assumed that if Kahi Mohala had filed an escape report with police, it would have shown up.

Kahi Mohala did file an escape report Sept. 28 with both HPD and the state Sheriff Division. It’s unclear how Honolulu police easily found the Texas extradition hold in a federal database, yet missed the escape report.

On the night of the escape, the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Sheriff Division, issued an alert and a news release, which the Star-Advertiser publicized.

The Star-Advertiser reported exclusively on Nov. 22 that LaBar was the sole patient under Department of Health custody still at large after the highly publicized Nov. 12 escape of Hawaii State Hospital patient Randall Saito, 59.

Saito was caught in California shortly afterward. He admitted to killing a woman nearly 40 years ago, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and held in the State Hospital.

LaBar’s mother, Diana LaBar, told the Star-Advertiser on Nov. 11 that her son, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is a danger to others and himself and should be returned to the State Hospital, not Kahi Mohala.

He was caught allegedly stealing items, including a knife, on April 23 from a Kauai store and arrested on suspicion of two counts of first-degree terroristic threatening and shoplifting, but was found unfit to stand trial. He was admitted Aug. 11 to the State Hospital and transferred Sept. 7 to Kahi Mohala.

“I don’t feel safe around Greg anymore,” said his mother, who lives in California. “He was combative at the jail … on Kauai at the intake. He got in fights with four different people — he told me that himself. He was suicidal. They moved him to suicide watch.”

She was concerned her son may have been trying to flee to the mainland because she found he had withdrawn $400 from his bank account and that she had sent him, as he requested, a copy of his driver’s license and a credit card.

She alerted the Sheriff Division, which has been following up on all leads and had notified airport authorities, but she hadn’t heard from her son since they last spoke Oct. 18, which she said was unusual. Diana LaBar finally called police Nov. 30 and learned of his Nov. 1 arrest.

Kahi Mohala, which contracts with the Health Department for 40 beds, is a locked facility, and each unit is secured with a key. All patients are escorted wherever they go on campus.

Kahi Mohala CEO Leonard Licina declined to reveal how LaBar escaped. The facility does not detail “for security purposes — so it doesn’t happen again — how patients elope, because there could be copycats,” he said.

The patients are physically segregated by age and categories, and won’t cross paths while on the facility’s grounds.

“In the scale of things, he wasn’t a high-risk patient,” he said.

But he said he was unaware of Gregory LaBar’s criminal past.

Court records show he was arrested Oct. 14, 2016, on suspicion of second-degree robbery in Webb County and that he was on indicted June 21, but failed to appear for the arraignment.

LaBar was convicted in September 2011 by an Orange County, Calif., court of second-degree burglary and for grabbing money out of a cash register at a taco restaurant, his mother said, referring to court documents. He served time in Theo Lacy jail in Orange, Calif., and was placed in the mental health section.

“He’s been in and out of prison his whole life, taking things,” Diana LaBar said.

LaBar is 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 177 pounds, and has brown hair and hazel eyes. Anyone who sees him is asked to call 911 or the state Sheriff Division at 586-1352.

©2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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