Friday, July 16, 1999

Former Halawa doctor wins
suit after exposing brutality

By Debra Barayuga


Three high-level prison officials conspired to retaliate against former prison doctor Terence B. Allen for blowing the whistle on inmate abuse at Halawa prison, a U.S. District judge has ruled.

But the court also found that Allen's personality and conduct contributed to the problems he experienced at Halawa.

In a decision filed yesterday, Judge Alan C. Kay found in favor of Allen, who filed suit in February 1997 against George Iranon, former Public Safety director; Eric Penarosa, former Public Safety deputy director; and Guy Hall, former warden at Halawa Correctional Center.

In his lawsuit, Allen claimed he had been harassed by the three for exposing brutality against inmates.

Allen resigned in April 1997, saying the retaliation and harassment "had so poisoned his work environment that he was unable to provide the quality of health care he felt inmates deserved," according to a written statement by his attorneys, Stanley E. Levin and Michael K. Livingston.

Allen has worked as a doctor in Spokane, Wash., for the past two years.

In a written statement, Allen said he was gratified by the verdict but the case was never about money. "It was about the right of a public employee to speak out about matters of public concern without fear of retaliation."

He said he hoped the decision sends a message to prison administrators and all high-level public officials that retaliation against whistle-blowers will not be tolerated.

After a nonjury trial in June, Kay ruled that the defendants retaliated against Allen and harassed him for exercising his constitutional right to free speech. The court ordered the defendants to pay damages to Allen of $111,000, plus attorneys fees and court costs.

Allen was a doctor in Hawaii's prisons for more than eight years during which he reported incidents of inmate abuse on several occasions. The reports were ignored.

Allen went public with reports of inmate abuse after he treated high-security inmate Ulysses Kim for wounds caused by being in full restraints and marks from beatings. His past reports of inmate abuse had been ignored by prison administrators and he felt that there would be an attempt to cover up Kim's injuries. Complaints from inmates in special holding units about brutality also had been ignored.

The court found that after Allen spoke to Deputy Attorney General Thomas Farrell about inmate mistreatment at Halawa and gave highly critical testimony before a special legislative committee investigating the prisons, he was subjected to abuse and harassment. He underwent a number of internal affairs investigations.

But it noted that the tension was exacerbated by Allen's personality and conduct.

The court noted that Allen was difficult to work with, often overreacting when Halawa staff disagreed with him. Some of the hostility he experienced wasn't directed at him personally, but rather at the entire medical staff.

The court also found that because of the defendant's actions, he was constructively discharged, or forced to quit because of intolerable and discriminatory working conditions.

Allen said he was asked during the trial why he didn't leave earlier. He responded that he stayed because if he didn't resist efforts by administrators to drive him out, no doctor or prison employee would feel safe about making complaints on serious issues such as inmate brutality.

Penarosa retired last month as warden at Halawa. Hall is an acting evaluation and compliance officer for the prisons. Iranon retired. The three could not be reached for comment.

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