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Volcano Community Voices Fear, Anger After Reported Sex Assault

By Tiffany DeMasters
April 20, 2021, 5:32 PM HST
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A reported sexual assault outside a Volcano home has left the community fearing for their safety.

The suspect in the assault, James Michael Taylor was squatting on a property in the area for weeks prior to the incident on April 1, according to the members of the Volcano Neighborhood Watch.

Neighborhood Watch Coordinator Linda Fuller said complaints against Taylor were filed with Hawai‘i Police Department. Issues ranged from public intoxication to threatening community members.

“He’s been reigning havoc since March,” Fuller said of the suspect. “(After the assault) None of the women feel safe anymore.”

Taylor was indicted on April 14 on three counts of first-degree sexual assault, third-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and third-degree assault. Initially being held in lieu of $187,000 bail, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Peter Kubota granted a reduction in bail to $50,000 over the state’s objection. A jury trial was set for Sept. 13.

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Fuller said the reported assault left the community feeling horror, disgust and anger. The news of Taylor’s bail reduction was an added frustration.

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“We just want these legislators and judges to understand the terror he caused,” Fuller said. “It seems the law is more in his favor than the residents.”

HPD Capt. John Briski confirmed officers had taken reports of Taylor squatting in the area as well as other reported activity where criminal complaints were initiated.

“Volcano area is usually a quiet neighborhood — it’s tragic what happened,” Briski noted of the assault. “I’m glad the community is up in arms.”

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Addressing the issue of squatters is one the biggest problems police have, Briski said.

“Until we (make) contact with the owner of the property there’s nothing we can do,” the captain said. “There could be an arrangement between the individual at the residence and the owner that community members don’t know about.”

A lot of times, Briski said, the owner has passed away or the property is in foreclosure and owned by the bank.

Volcano resident and member of the Neighborhood Watch Marylene Chun said they’re not a vigilante group and they support the police department as well as their community policing officer. However, the situation is frustrating.

Chun said they’d like to see an increase in presence in their community.

“Every community in every district wants more officers and more presence,” Briski said, adding resources in police the departments everywhere are needed.

Briski is captain for the Pāhoa station. He would not comment on personnel staffing, however, officers cover an area from Pāpaʻi to Keauhou Landing in the Kaʻū District. Because the coverage is so widespread, Briski said, neighborhood watch groups are important.

“We appreciate the cooperation we get from that neighborhood,” Briski said of Volcano. “It’s imperative we keep these lines of communication open. We can’t solve crime without them.”

Fuller and Chun said they’d also like to see a closer station.

“It took an hour for police to respond the assault, Fuller said as officers were coming from Kalapana.

In this time of economic troubles, Briski said, building a substation isn’t money well spent, adding money spent on additional officers would be more useful.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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