Lawmakers grill public safety director

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Nolan Espinda was back in the hot seat as lawmakers try to find out more about recent high profile incidents under his watch. At the top of the list is last month’s riot at Maui Community Correctional Center. 

Maui Senator Rosalyn Baker asked why corrections officers didn’t seem to have the equipment to deal with the riot. 

“When the riot happened most of them only had handcuffs,” said Senator Rosalyn Baker.

Espinda pointed out that there is an armory where officers can get weapons but Baker questioned whether the armory is easily accessible. Lawmakers also grilled Espinda on whether corrections officers are trained enough to deal with inmates with mental illness. 

The same question was raised about sheriffs. Deputies fatally shot a homeless man at the State Capitol last month. But lawmakers couldn’t get all the answers they needed. That’s because the incidents are still being investigated. 

“I understand the legal issues of saying too much. I am concerned it’s hard for us to do our jobs here,” said Senator Breene Harimoto.

Espinda says it could take up to four months to finish the investigation. But the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to make a decision Thursday on whether to recommend to confirm him as public safety director for another four years. 

“It’s frustrating. At the same time I don’t know if we had more direct information it would’ve changed some other peoples’ minds because they’re already leaning in one particular way,” said Senator Clarence Nishihara, Judiciary Committee Chairman.

Senator Nishihara says he will vote against Espinda but he does not know how the rest of the committee will vote. The ultimate decision comes down to the full senate which will vote next week. 

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