Prosecutor says crime dynamics changing

LIHU‘E — Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho said the changing dynamics of crime and threat to the island way of life has motivated her to run for a second term as Kaua‘i County prosecuting attorney.

Theft and robbery crimes were the traditional crimes of the past, often aimed against businesses and the tourist industry, she said. The victims were unknown to the offender.

“A lot of the a was situated at hostels or situated at popular beach spots,” she said. “That is no longer the case. It’s probably around 50-50 now, where instead of hotel burglaries we have residential burglaries.”

The island culture used to have more respect for residents, juveniles and senior citizens, she said. Today, she said no one can be as trusting when they are the target of crime.

“The criminal mind is a lot different,” she said. “There is no respect.”

The island was perhaps a decade behind prescription drug, methamphetamine and anabolic steroid trends of the Mainland. Today, she said Hawai‘i is the methamphetamine capital of the world.

“Crystal meth is a huge problem, especially relative to the population,” she said.

The difference is that Kaua‘i meth cases involve mostly users, while most of the trafficking concerns are on O‘ahu.

Iseri-Carvalho is proud of her record on sexual assault and domestic violence cases. She is credited with increasing prosecution to nearly 100 percent of cases.

These are the most difficult to prosecute because victims are not always willing to cooperate, she said. Her goal is more justice for the community.

“It is impossible for the public to compare one sexual assault case to another and they do it all the time, because they are not familiar with the dynamics of sexual assault,” she said.

The best police investigators and prosecutors handle the very emotionally and physically draining job of assault cases. She said it takes trained people to deal with trauma victims.

“That’s the kind of people you need here,” she said. “You have to put in the hours, talk to the victims and be prepared for your case. If not, you’re going to be held accountable.”

Iseri-Carvalho said youth crime on Kaua‘i increased 142 percent in her first year, from increased crime and also from picking up on a backlog of unprosecuted cases. Juvenile crime is down 7 percent from last year, she said.

Alcohol and drug offenses and fighting in schools are significant problems, she said. A new concern is cyber bullying, she said.

Prosecuting youth crime is a delicate matter, and she said juvenile detention is the last resort after all alternatives are exhausted. She said the planned in-patient adolescent drug treatment centers are good, but that intermediary intervention programs, therapeutic group homes, out-patient treatment and victim impact classes are more effective and needed.

“We definitely want to encourage less intrusive methods for rehabilitative classes when you don’t need to be institutionalized for a program,” she said. “We need small steps before the big step, and can fill the gap with cultural programs and outpatient programs, and cut down on residential programs.”

 Iseri-Carvalho praises programs such as P.O.H.A.K.U. (Productive Optimism Helps All Kaua‘i Unite). She is currently planning a juvenile version. Nonviolent offenders are screened and participants plead guilty with an incentive to avoid probation or jail and to remove a charge from their record. It is designed for offenders with moving violations, petty theft, vandalism and some minor drug offenses.

There are classes on professional responsibility, traditional Hawaiian values, self-esteem, child and family services parenting, medicinal plants and canoe paddling.

“Its not meant to be punitive,” she said. “It’s meant to build a person’s self-esteem and by doing it that way, we hope they won’t come back to create more crimes and problems.”

Iseri-Carvalho said there were five deputy prosecutors in 2008, and she handled cases in addition to running the office. She has increased the number of prosecutors and said they are required to exercise independence and initiative when facing defense attorneys with years of trial experience.

“I don’t think there is anyone capable of doing that unless they have been doing this for 20 years,” she said. “Would you think a recruit with a year’s experience would be qualified to be the police chief?”

As an attorney with more than 20 years of experience in criminal law, Iseri-Carvalho said her role as prosecuting attorney means less time in court and more time running an office. Administrative matters fill her day, as she meets with police and city officials.

Other goals of prevention and partnership mean performing public outreach on senior health care fraud and prescription drug crimes, and coordinating tobacco and alcohol compliance operations.

“My expectation was that I would be spending most of my time in court, which is what I enjoy the most, and it just hasn’t been like that,” she said. “You have to run this office like a business. There are a lot of other issues besides litigation.”

She said the current staff of deputy county attorneys is among the best ever assembled. Their competence comes from working 60 to 70 hours a week, with new attorneys out of law school starting out as clerks to assist with trial preparations.

“I believe when you utilize taxpayers’ money, and these attorneys can get up to $100,000, that you have to hire the best and the brightest and you cannot hire or retain dishonest employees,” she said. “When we find out that someone has been dishonest we do terminate immediately. That has happened on way too many occasions than we would like to have happened.”

Iseri-Carvalho said some of the attorneys no longer with her office have resigned or were dismissed for abusing their power of dismissing cases.

She said police, judges and defense attorneys report on irregularities in court.

Iseri-Carvalho said she is a Native Hawaiian and lives on Hawaiian Homestead Lands.

“My mother is full Hawaiian. My family was here before 1778. Out of anybody I think I recognize the plight of the Hawaiians and Native Hawaiians, and I want to recognize their interests,” she said.

Cases involving Kanaka Maoli badges, license plates, driver’s licenses and related issues have had prosecutors working additional hours to respond on motions regarding sovereignty status. She said the law prosecutes these cases without making an exception.

She said the prosecution would be not following its oath if these cases were dismissed, and added that a single sovereign entity that is recognized by the legislature would go further with the courts and legislators in changing laws.

“I have no problems in not prosecuting a case when there is a law that supports it,” she said.

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