Honolulu voters get to choose a new prosecutor this year, and HPR will be profiling the major candidates running for the office ahead of the August 8 primary. Today, a look at acting prosecuting attorney Dwight Nadamoto.
Dwight Nadamoto is the acting prosecutnig attorney for Honolulu. He was appointed to the position after current prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro took paid leave shortly after receiving a target letter from a federal grand jury.
Nadamoto is a career prosecutor, working in both the state Department of the Attorney General and Honolulu prosecutor's office over more than 30 years. He says throughout his career, he has prosecuted cases involving dirty police officers, sex trafficking rings, and more.
"I got into this race late. And the reason why I took so long was I just wanted to see who was getting in it," Nadamoto said. "After a while, I saw that nobody's focus was on public safety. The prosecutor's office duty is public safety."
Nadamoto says one of the biggest threats facing Honolulu is drugs. He says nobody is focusing on addressing the city's drug problems. Nadamoto is troubled by a proposal at the state Legislature that would make the possession of two grams or less of methamphetamine a misdemeanor.
"What was once criminalized for five years, is now just a year," he said. "Now we're in an ice epidemic. In 2009, we had 37 deaths; 2019, 170 [deaths] -- 129 in Honolulu. It's a big, big problem."
Nadamoto notes that before the pandemic, Honolulu was experiencing a number of drug-related crimes. He says a lot of probationers were recommitting offenses.
Nadamoto says to address Honolulu's ice epidemic, he would like to investigate unattended drug deaths to find dealers and possible drug rings.
He also wants to address domestic violence in the city.
"During this COVID [pandemic], domestic violence was going up," he said.
"We would see things where a guy get arrested for domestic violence, the public defenders would come in and ask for release because of COVID. The judge would let them go. A couple weeks later, same guy, same system, same arguments, and the judge would let them go."
Nadamoto says there is a proposal before the state Legislature that would make it easier to prosecute domestic violence cases. He says he's also hired a domestic violence expert to train deputy prosecutors on how to charge those cases.
"We're trying to train our deputies, and they're getting the best training there is," he said. "But we're also trying to improve our laws to to make it easier for us to prosecute domestic violence. And that's the point, we're taking a proactive response."
Transparency is another priority for Nadamoto. He believes it has improved during his time as acting prosecutor. He says a range of measures have been implemented to prevent another Katherine Kealoha incident from happening.
"Nothing is more important to me than the integrity of the office," Nadamoto said. "We've asked all our attorneys and staff, if you see something fishy or suspicious going on -- report it. We set up anonymous phone numbers, a tip box, all those things to allow them to report it anonymously.
"We also have formalized our conflict of interest policy. We put in computer software which will help us control the sensitive information does not go anywhere but [where] it's supposed to."
Nadamoto says the software also allows supervisors and administrators to monitor emails and computer uses.
"Let's face it, Kealoha was one bad apple. We have almost 300 honest employees," Nadamoto said. "The office is working well. We've gotten a number of good convictions, and people who leave our office are wanting to come back."
Nadamoto says criminal justice reform is a broad term. And while he supports having more transparency when a police officer is suspended or fired, he says it's the prosecutor's job to uphold the law.
"If you're talking about minorities, or in our case Native Hawaiians, being incarcerated more -- if that's the statistic, then I'm not going to deny it," he said. "The real question is have they been falsely convicted? If not, then what can I do?"
Nadamoto says he supports keeping minorities out of the criminal justice system, and would support education or diversion programs. But he says if they've been rightly convicted, he has to follow the law.
He says the experience he's gained as acting prosecuting attorney will help him and the office -- if he's elected. He says he's gotten to know and work with the Honolulu Police Department and the federal government, and has helped to solve some of the issues facing the city.
"I know the problems going on in the city," he said. "I have the experience and I know how to close the revolving door -- you know, people getting out and recommitting offenses.
"Let's not forget, before this COVID [pandemic] hit, people were screaming because of all the violence on the streets."
To read more about the candidates running for city prosecuting attorney, go to HPR's candidate page.