5 treated for smoke after
Big Isle inmates set fires

State corrections officials and Big Island police are investigating two fires set by inmates Saturday at the overcrowded Hawaii Community Correctional Center.

Four staffers and an inmate were taken to Hilo Medical Center for smoke inhalation, but all had recovered by Sunday.

Inmates started a fire in the Punahele complex about 3:15 p.m. Saturday, said Ed Shimoda, Institutions Division administrator for the Department of Public Safety.

The inmates were evacuated. About an hour after the first fire, a second fire began in another building, where pretrial inmates are sent. After they were relocated to a secure area after the second fire, some inmates began fighting.

Shimoda said at least one correctional officer outside the fenced yard along the perimeter fired a warning shot from a shotgun "to stop them from fighting."

Police said overcrowding has contributed to minor disturbances in the past. Hilo police Lt. Ron Paul said police have been called to assist with inmates refusing to vacate their cells at the Big Island facility.

"They never involved fire; that's a new one," Paul said. But he could not say whether overcrowding was a factor in Saturday's fires.

On the day of the fires, the two complexes housing men had a combined population of 211, well over the operational capacity of 120.

Although prison Warden Pete MacDonald acknowledged the problem of overcrowding, he said preliminary reports from staff members suggested it was more likely one inmate was "doing the dirty work and a couple others egging him on.

"It isn't quite the spectacular uprising that people might imagine," he said.

HCCC is conducting an internal investigation and will interview as many inmates as possible, Shimoda said yesterday. He said they hope to have the investigation wrapped up by tomorrow or Thursday.

Police are conducting a criminal investigation.

The fire left some cells uninhabitable, causing 13 inmates to be sent to Kulani Correctional Facility and up to 27 to the Hilo police cellblock, while the rest returned to the facility, Shimoda said. About 30 inmates remained in the recreation area overnight sleeping under a canopy on cots provided by the county.

County of Hawaii


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