- Sidney Tafokitau, a felon prohibited from owning a high-powered rifle, triggered an islandwide manhunt in Hawaii on New Year’s Day.
- Tafokitau allegedly shot a woman, carjacked another at gunpoint and engaged in a shootout with Honolulu police that wounded two officers.
- Court records reveal Tafokitau’s criminal history, including a 20-year prison sentence for robbery and prior gun convictions.
The subject of an islandwide manhunt New Year’s Day in Hawaii was a felon barred from owning the high-powered rifle he used to open fire on Honolulu police in a shootout that left two officers wounded and the suspect dead, court records show.
Sidney Tafokitau was accused of shooting a woman and carjacking another woman at gunpoint before leading officers on a chase around the island of Oahu. He also had posted bail just two weeks prior on gun-related charges.
The fallout from the dramatic pursuit continued days later, as police faced criticism for the pursuit and for not alerting the public as the situation unfolded.
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“I think in the past 48 hours there’s been a lot of talk about how the system failed,” Doug Chin, chair of the Honolulu Police Commission and Hawaii’s former attorney general, told The Associated Press Wednesday. “I hear reports that, you know, his bail was too low, he had an unregistered firearm, the public release of information was inadequate or even that he should not have been chased at all.”
But it’s too soon to point to anything until there’s more information, he said, noting that it will likely be discussed at this month’s commission meeting. “I think the entire system is tested when you have a very, very serious situation like this,” he said.
Court records show a long criminal history for Tafokitau, including a 20-year prison sentence for robbery and convictions for gun crimes. In November, he pleaded not guilty to a slew of firearms charges, including possessing a firearm as a felon. He was out on $75,000 bail, which had been reduced from $150,000. State Public Defender Jon Ikegana, whose office represented him, declined to comment Wednesday.
In mid-December, Honolulu police asked for the public’s help in locating Tafokitau, called him armed and dangerous, and said he committed a shooting and stabbing.
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After Monday’s shootout culminated near the University of Hawaii’s main campus, Honolulu Police Chief Arthur “Joe” Logan defended not issuing alerts. He said police didn’t want the public getting involved in the chase he described as “fluid” and which moved rapidly across the island.
Tafokitau was using an unregistered AR-15 type rifle, police said in a statement. A spokesperson with the Honolulu Police Department didn’t address an inquiry from the AP asking for a response to criticism about the chase that has been described as taking place at high speeds at times.
Police also said a woman who was shot before the pursuit Monday, as well as the two officers wounded in the shootout, remained hospitalized Wednesday evening. The wounded officers were expected to recover.
Former Honolulu Police Deputy Chief John McCarthy told Hawaii News Now officers endangered others by engaging in the pursuit.
“They forgot their basic mission to protect life and property,” he told the Honolulu news stations. “They endangered life and property.”
Hawaii News Now reported motorist Erin Valentine was carjacked when Tafokitau was involved in a crash during the pursuit in Kaneohe, a Honolulu suburb.
“He opened up the car door and just lifted up the gun straight to my face and just said, ‘Get out,’” she told the TV station.
Hawaii’s statewide police union and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi defended the officers.
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“Without our officers’ courageous actions and sacrifice, the situation could have been far worse,” Blangiardi said.
Officers, who had already been on the lookout for him for the December shooting and stabbing and for the Monday shooting, needed to pursue him to apprehend him, said Honolulu Lt. Robert Cavaco, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
“For our officers, it was a very hard situation to deal with because he shot at them at multiple locations during the pursuit,” Cavaco said.
Chin, the police commission chair, noted how shocking the situation was in a city and state with historically low violent crime rates per capita compared to other parts of the U.S.
“What strikes me as extreme is the duration of the crime spree, the number of different incidents involved and the many different locations where the suspect ended up on Oahu,” Chin said.
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