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Behind statistics: The rising crimes on Guam

Updated: May 13

By Dana Williams

Four days into 2024, a 60-year-old Korean tourist was gunned down in a robbery in Tumon.  Six weeks later, a 53-year-old woman was fatally shot during a robbery outside a Tamuning restaurant.

Unlike most homicides reported on Guam, there was no apparent relationship between the victims and the suspects. The tourist was walking back from a dinner show with his wife. The woman in Tamuning was enjoying a Valentine’s Day dinner with friends.

Their deaths were not related to a dispute between neighbors, a quarrel between family members or an argument that got out of control. In both cases, according to court documents, the victims were chosen at random and the suspects were involved in methamphetamine.

The killings have raised questions about crime on Guam, the relationship between methamphetamine and crime and what can be done to protect the community from drug-fueled violence.

“Two people died – innocent, law-abiding people because of meth-related crimes,” Attorney General Douglas Moylan said in a recent interview with the Pacific Island Times. “And both of them had implications that the person who's being accused had prior criminal histories that were released. One of them was in the (Adult Drug Court) program.”

Documents in the Jan. 4 killing of visitor Hea Jun Hwang state that shooting suspect Keoki Santos had been placed into adult drug court for a 2021 methamphetamine arrest. A bench warrant had been issued for his arrest three weeks before the shooting when he failed to show up for a court appearance.

As police approached Santos, who was in a vehicle at a residence, he took his own life.

Douglas Moylan

A witness told police that Domingo Chargualaf Mendiola, the suspect in the Feb. 14 killing of Sumittra Lairopi in Tamuning, was planning to rob someone because he “needed money for an owed drug debt,” according to court documents.

Moylan campaigned on a platform of being “The Toughest AG on Crime,” and he won the 2022 election by 39 votes. Since taking office last year, he has made daily magistrate reports available to the public on his office’s website.

Along with the affidavits of probable cause, prosecutors include requests that suspects be locked up before trial. After each magistrate hearing, documents are updated to show whether suspects were released or held on bail.

“Unprecedented in the Judiciary's history, among the magistrates we’re filing … we have a motion for pretrial confinement, which includes the information that is not readily available to the public about the criminal histories of a lot of these repeat offenders,” he said.

He has erected billboards with mugshots of offenders, and criticized what he describes as the “catch, release and re-offend problem” when suspects are being arrested, released before trial and being accused in another crime.

Stephen Hattori

Each month, he provides a “Catch, Release & Re-offend” report to lawmakers and members of the media. On April 2, the report stated there was an alarming increase in violations filed in “the past 30 days” by the probation department.

“We're using the data approach,” he said, “looking at the numbers and publishing it to the senators and to the community to make them aware that we have a dangerous community out there.”

The press release stated that 176 probation violations were reported in March, an increase over February, with 41 new crimes committed by people who were on probation or conditional release pending trial.

However, the description in the press release was inaccurate. Of the 176 violations on the list, only 62 took place in March. Others were recorded in previous months or years. Eleven people on the list were charged with new crimes in March. The list is likely not complete, as the last violations listed were filed on March 20, a week and a half before the end of the month.


Stephen Hattori, executive director of Guam Public Defender Service Corp., said even if the numbers were accurate, they wouldn’t tell the real story. With about 3,500 people reporting to probation, sometimes three times a week, the percentage of violations is not very high, and the percentage of people committing new crimes while out on bail “is very small.”

He pointed out that some of the 176 people listed in Moylan’s March report were actually in jail in March, and could not have violated release conditions. “This is fear-mongering at its worst,” he said.

The Judiciary’s Pre-Trial Services Office, which oversees people charged with a crime and awaiting trial, provided statistics for calendar 2023. Of 691 people who were released on supervision that year, 30, or 4.3 percent, were arrested for a new offense, and 10, or 1.4 percent, were arrested for a new violent offense.

Moylan has asked senators to legislate reforms, including eliminating cashless bail and mandatory incarceration for people accused of possessing methamphetamine.

“The legislature, I am holding my breath that they finally do something we said,” Moylan said.  “We spent a lot of our time and effort troubleshooting the problems that we're seeing and sending over proposed legislation.”

Two things the legislature could do to make Guam safer, according to the attorney general, would be to “change the laws as it relates to persons found with meth … and to stop the repeat career criminals.”

Often, suspects are released on a personal recognizance bond. They don’t have to put any cash up front, but they will forfeit the amount of the bond if they violate the terms of their release.


“We're seeing the problem that the judges are exercising too much discretion on personal recognizance bonds, which requires no money and all,” he said. “It is a signature, and these guys are out on the street again.”

Hattori said if personal recognizance bonds were eliminated, only the wealthy would be able to post bail. And that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing for Guam.

Traditionally, first offenders who have jobs have been given the opportunity to continue working to support their families while awaiting trial.

“Now they’re being held at historic rates,” he said. While everyone on the island is opposed to crime, he said, locking all suspects in jail does not make Guam a safer place. Instead, it destabilizes families.


“A lot of the ones we’re arguing for release are people who are fully employed, who have a family to support and who have a non-violent charge,” he said. “We’re not saying everyone should get out, but we’re definitely not saying everyone should be held.”

Hattori is also opposed to putting the faces of offenders on billboards – particularly people who went to Drug Court, took responsibility for their actions and “are just trying to get their lives back in order.”

Moylan said his primary duty is to protect the community against criminals, “not necessarily to punish, not necessarily to reform, but to provide that immediate protection.”

“Whenever you have a crime victim, it's always a serious matter,” he said. “And how many crime victims are enough for us to wake up and realize that until you become a crime victim, you don't understand the pain and suffering that these people are going through?”

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