Big Island jail, courts make changes after mistaken release

HONOLULU — Procedures have been changed for jails and courts after a man charged with murder was mistakenly released from a Big Island jail last summer, officials said.

Hawaii Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda told state lawmakers Tuesday that Big Island courts now email bail documents to the jail in additional to hand delivering them.

Espinda said the investigation is ongoing into how Brian Lee Smith was mistakenly freed from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in July, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported . He turned himself in two days later.

Smith, 49, had been charged with second-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in a deadly shooting in South Kona in June.

Jail staff never received the bail documents that would have instructed them to hold Smith, Espinda said. He was released when other cases against him were resolved.

“It is near impossible to pinpoint where the documentation was not transmitted,” Espinda said. “The jail did not have it, the courts insist that they provided it and we have no reason to believe otherwise. None of us are trying to point fingers at each other.”

The state uses a hand-to-hand process to send documents between the courts and jails, Espinda said, and “it is an antiquated process that, as you might expect, has its glitches, and the delivery of those documents sometimes do not occur as anticipated.”

Starting in the 3rd Circuit Court system, the department has launched a pilot project for documents to be transmitted to the jail by email, fax and hand, Espinda said.

The department has also hired more staff and accelerated the training process for all correctional center employees who process inmate releases, Espinda said.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser,


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