Inmates on trial over damaging jail
Three inmates threatened the safety and security of other inmates and staff at the federal detention center in early 2006 by refusing orders to put on their handcuffs and damaging their recreation cages, government prosecutors said.
Convicted robber Bryson Jose, 29, convicted bank robber Sean Matsunaga, 28, and Robert Kupahu, 32, convicted of possessing contraband in federal prison, are on trial in U.S. District Court on a misdemeanor charge of damaging government property. Jurors began deliberating late yesterday and will resume today.
Defense attorneys collectively argue that their clients were justified in causing the damage because they felt threatened by a lieutenant who taunted them, saying they would be brought out forcibly if they didn't comply.
The sequence of events pieced together from closing arguments by defense and prosecution attorneys is:
Matsunaga refused to put his handcuffs back on after his recreation time expired, purportedly because he wanted more time to hang out with fellow inmate Jose.
All three were housed in the facility's special housing unit designated for inmates who are being disciplined or need protection from other inmates. Inmates in the unit are allowed out for only one hour a day to spend in the recreation cages -- rooms with glass walls and separated by steel grilles.
On March 17, 2006, the three occupied recreation cages adjacent to each other. When Matsunaga refused to put on his cuffs, a captain was called to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, Jose felt that a lieutenant "disrespected" his fellow inmates with his taunting remarks and became angry.
Matsunaga apparently began kicking one of the grilles separating his and Jose's cage until it broke, leaving a hole large enough for him to climb through to get into Jose's cage. Kupahu also tried to kick in his side of the cage but was unsuccessful, the government said.
Jose, with the help of Matsunaga, kicked through the grille and assisted Kupahu into the middle cage where all three remained until they gave up two hours later.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Connors said there was no immediate threat or attempt to extricate the inmates from the cage and that they had no reason to fear they would be seriously injured or killed.
The staff tried to reason with them for the next two hours before persuading the three to give up.
Each faces a year in federal prison if convicted. They could have faced a longer term if convicted had U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway not ruled on Monday that the damage could not be shown to exceed $1,000.
Jose was convicted of federal charges for his role in the shooting death of a vacationing Army pilot at the Waianae Rest Camp in June 1998.
Matsunaga was found guilty in a July 1999 takeover robbery and shootout with police at the Kahala American Savings Bank.
Kupahu was convicted in state court of assaulting a man who had witnessed and intervened after watching Kupahu's father beat and try to drown his dog at Waimanalo Beach. He was convicted in federal court earlier this year of conspiring with other inmates to smuggle drugs and contraband into the federal detention center.