Friday, January 29, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Prison beatings
spur Senate inquiry

Two inmates won settlements,
yet no guards were disciplined
in the '95 cases

By Craig Gima


State senators investigating allegations of abuse in Hawaii's prisons are concerned about why no correctional officers were disciplined after two high-profile beating cases at the Halawa Correctional Facility in 1995.

Ulysses Kim and Anthony DeGuzman received settlements of $199,000 and $210,000, respectively, after they sued the state over their mistreatment.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "I would think that if you were a businessman and one of your employees has cost you $400,000, you'd want to certainly look into it and make sure it doesn't happen again," said Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo),

co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Matsunaga and Co-chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) said they were surprised at how long it takes to investigate complaints of abuse in the prison system.

After a hearing today to listen to complaints from the public, the committee will meet again next Friday to discuss its findings and recommendations.

Ted Sakai, the new public safety director, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that an internal investigation into the DeGuzman case did not find enough evidence to pursue disciplinary action against the guards involved.

In the Kim case, the department could not find a hearings officer who would hear the case against the guards on a volunteer basis.

Sakai said the attorney general's office recommended using a hearings officer from outside the department because the public safety director at the time, George Iranon, was alleged to have known about the shackling policy that led to the allegations of abuse.

Sakai said that he had asked Iranon for permission to pay someone to hear the case, but that Iranon retired before giving him an answer.

Once Sakai was appointed director, he asked a hearings officer hired after Iranon left to look into the Kim case to see whether a disciplinary hearing can still be held.

In his opening statement, Sakai said he welcomed the Senate inquiry.

"If the allegations which led to this inquiry are true, then we have a dysfunctional operation and we are obligated to correct it," he said.

Gary Rodrigues, United Public Workers state director, said the union has been working to increase training for guards and to streamline discipline for abuse of sick leave and overtime.

"We would like to do as much as we can to assure that there is no more abuse in prison," Rodrigues said.

He said allegations of abuse by a few hurt all prison guards.

"The large majority of correctional officers are hard-working people that come to work in a bad environment," he said.

Rodrigues criticized the management of the prisons for not investigating complaints quickly, but said he believes Sakai is serious about improving conditions for guards and prisoners.

Robert Rees, a commentator whose articles on conditions at Halawa led to the Senate inquiry, blamed most of the abuses at the prison on about a dozen rogue correctional officers at Halawa and said there is an institutional culture of brutality at the prison.

Sakai said he has told his wardens that instances of abuse or inmate death will not be tolerated and will be actively investigated. He said the department is also reviewing the use of force policy and will provide retraining for every employee who has contact with inmates.

Next month, he said, the department will audit all eight correctional facilities and assess the level of compliance with professional standards and department polices.

Sakai is also reviewing whether he can transfer staff to strengthen the internal affairs division and is working with the union to see if discipline procedures negotiated to curb sick-leave abuse can be applied to other areas.

He said he is also looking into putting time limits on investigations to speed the process.

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