Beating of suspect
was ‘surprise to us’

A public safety official defends
procedures after prisoners clash

A state Department of Public Safety official defended departmental procedures and the actions of deputy sheriffs after child murder suspect and pretrial detainee Christopher Aki was assaulted by two inmates Tuesday in a secured interview room at court.

There was no indication before Tuesday that having Aki in the same room as convicted felons Albert Batalona and Warren Elicker would be a problem, said Jim Propotnick, deputy director of law enforcement.

Aki is charged in the slaying of 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal in December 2002. Batalona and Elicker escaped from Halawa prison last April and were captured a week later after a massive manhunt.

Batalona and Elicker allegedly beat Aki as the three were having lunch in a locked room at Circuit Court. Deputy sheriffs, who were separated from the inmates by a glass partition, noticed the attack immediately and entered the room as quickly as they could to end it, he said.

Batalona and Elicker "no longer did anything after it stopped. They didn't resist," he said.

"We followed all our established rules and procedures, and someone decided to throw a punch," Propotnick said. "There's not something we can do about that."

"Batalona and Elicker have never done anything like this -- assaulted or attacked anyone at all," he said. "There's no reason to think they would do this. This was a surprise to us."

Aki reportedly suffered two fractured teeth that had to be wired, cut and swollen lips, bruised ribs and had his head smashed into a concrete barrier, sources said. He was taken to the Queen's Medical Center, where he was treated before being returned to prison.

Jury selection for Aki has been put on hold temporarily until he is able to come to court.

The incident is under investigation, and department officials will turn over their findings to the state attorney general, who will decide if criminal charges are warranted, Propotnick said.

Deputy Public Defender Todd Eddins and Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Kim both declined comment on the incident or how the delay might affect the trial. Opening statements had been projected for March 30.

When defendants, both pretrial and convicted inmates, are brought to Circuit Court, they are usually kept in cells that are large enough to hold three or four individuals, regardless of what facility they came from, Propotnick said. But inmates are allowed to lunch in the secured interview room because it is cleaner, he said.

Before Tuesday, Aki was not in special custody, as he initially was when first brought to the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

Because of their notorious escape from Halawa, Batalona and Elicker are held in maximum custody, meaning they are kept in their cells 23 hours a day, with one hour for recreation.

None of the inmates were wearing restraints because they were in the jail cellblock area monitored by deputy sheriffs.

While Aki has not yet gone to trial, he is being held like any other defendant who is in custody, Propotnick said.

"There is no place else to put him," he said.

Propotnick said the three likely will not be placed together in the same room again.

Batalona and Elicker appeared before Circuit Judge Marie Milks that afternoon for a hearing to determine the amount of restitution and fines they owed for damaging their prison cell and escaping last April.

Batalona's attorney, Nelson Goo, said he did not learn about the incident involving his client until the hearing was over and had not spoken to Batalona about it, so could not comment.


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