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Inmate escapes from court

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Nov 01 2012 09:19:54 AM HST
Updated On: Nov 01 2012 10:11:43 AM HST

Prison inmate escapes during his day at court and is still missing.

HONOLULU -

On a day filled with frights and scares on the streets, something shocking happened at Circuit Court Wednesday.

"I can't remember the latest time there was an escape at court.  Nothing like this has ever happened before," said Shawn Tsuha from the Hawaii State Sheriffs Division.

Around noon, Darius Punimau was brought in from the Oahu Community Correctional Center.  He had pleaded guilty in August to illegally entering a home and abusing a family member and he was supposed to be sentenced.

According to the sheriff's department, because of a backlog in court, the suspect was taken behind a security desk where he was to wait for his attorney.  Instead he used that time to escape.  At first, public safety officers thought he wasn't the only one to disappear.

"They escaped through the ceiling, the ceiling tiles and into the space in between the floors here at Circuit Court," said Tsuha.

For most of the afternoon, sheriff's deputies searched for the building for a pair of inmates.

There was evidence they were long gone -- piece of the ceiling tiles were found on a third floor.

"It was about 40 feet from the cell block and it's right next to an exit door.  It looks like they went to the false ceiling and followed the conduit, dropped into a utility room, made sure it was clear and went out the utility room and went out to the exit," said Tsuha.

Hours later, after the courthouse was closed, a more exhaustive search was conducted.  And it turned up nothing.  No sign of the missing men.

Then, came another twist.  One of the men wasn't missing at all -- he had been taken back to OCCC.  But, there was confusion over when he actually left.

Punimau remains missing, as of Wednesday night and a sheriff warrants team was looking for him.

The department also stepped up security for Circuit Court and will look into changing its policy to make sure there are no future tracks from inmates on Halloween or any other day.

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