By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A suspect is in custody after two Hawaii County police officers were shot and injured Wednesday night in Hilo.
Police say the suspect, 31-year-old Keaka Martin of Hilo, shot himself in the chest as a law enforcement team converged on an East Palai Street home where he was hiding shortly before 3:30 p.m. Thursday. A team of 20 officers, including police, two state sheriff’s deputies and three FBI agents, arrested Martin on suspicion of two counts of attempted first-degree murder and took him in custody to Hilo Medical Center for treatment of his critical injuries.
Martin has an extensive rap sheet, including convictions for second-degree assault of a police officer and second-degree terroristic threatening, but no prior felony convictions, according to court records.
The police shooting took place shortly before 9 p.m. in the parking lot of Pono Place, which is located in the building formerly occupied by the Green Onion bar on Kilauea Avenue next to Wailoa Pond and beneath a landmark banyan tree.
At the rededication and blessing for the renovated Mo‘oheau Bus Terminal on Thursday morning, Mayor Billy Kenoi identified the injured officers as Garrett Hatada and Joshua Gouveia, and asked those assembled to offer their prayers for the officers. Hatada is 40 years old and a 14-year department veteran, while Gouveia is 31 and has been on the force for four years.
A woman who lives nearby said she ventured down to the crime scene after seeing the police cars and hearing a commotion.
“I saw police officers hiding behind trees, guns drawn, screaming for me to halt and turn around. It was quite a scene,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “The vivid image that I have is of two officers backed up against the banyan tree, facing towards me, away from the pond and away from the (Hilo) Lagoon Center, with their handguns drawn in front of them.”
The neighbor left the immediate area and observed the goings-on from a distance.
“The ambulances came and took the injured officers; the numbers of police increased,” the neighbor said. “Then Aupuni Street was blocked off by officers with full automatic weapons.” The neighbor didn’t hear the gunfire.
Another neighbor, Blair Grandi, said he walked past Pono Place minutes before the report of gunfire and saw several people, including one matching the suspect’s description.
“I thought it was bizarre that there were that many people in the Pono Place parking lot that time of night,” he said. Grandi said he heard sirens later but didn’t hear gunshots and didn’t know what was happening at the time.
The officers were responding to a report an hour earlier of several gunshots and were investigating parked vehicles in the area. Police say the suspect opened fire on the officers from beneath a parked vehicle. One of the officers returned fire, but the suspect fled the area on foot. Police don’t know if the suspect was injured by the gunfire.
Both officers sustained gunshot wounds to their lower extremities. Both were listed in stable condition after undergoing surgery at Hilo Medical Center, police said.
“I believe one of the officers still has to undergo some (additional) surgery, but all in all, it went well,” Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said Thursday afternoon.
Kubojiri said “there is nothing at this point” to tie the shootings of the officers to the fatal shooting on Saturday night of 32-year-old Faafetai Fiu on the Hilo Bayfront. He added that he’s grateful the officers’ injuries aren’t life-threatening.
He said prior to Martin’s arrest that he was worried about the public’s safety with the shooter still at large.
“If someone is willing to shoot at law enforcement officers, I would assume that he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at anybody,” the chief said. “Because not only did he shoot at law enforcement officers, he shot at somebody who is armed, as well.”
A police spokeswoman said the last time a Big Island police officer was shot an injured was on May 19, 1997, when 37-year-old Hilo Patrol Officer Lance Ambrose was injured in a shootout on Kapiolani Street with 29-year-old Miguel A. Vierra, who was killed. Police said that Vierra, an El Salvadoran national who lived in Glenwood, was suicidal and vowed “to take someone with me.” A friend of Vierra’s disputed that, saying Vierra was troubled by his past in El Salvador but wasn’t suicidal.
Ambrose was released from the hospital two days later and subsequently returned to work.
The anonymous neighbor said investigators illuminated the crime scene with “a ginormous light bulb” and opined that the darkness of Hilo at night is “the problem that we have in this city.”
“They call it a town; nobody wants to acknowledge it’s a city,” the neighbor said. “Not enough light, too many cockroaches. We need more by Wailoa Park. We need it downtown, at Kalakaua Park. We need it by the Mooheau Park bandstand, by the bus station; we need it in all those places. The cockroaches hang out where it’s dark. More light, less cockroaches.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.