KALIHI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A riot broke out at Oahu Community Correctional Center – the state's largest jail -- last week and one of the alleged instigators has caused trouble there before.
Officials described the incident as the worst disturbance at OCCC in 30 years.
It happened in the disciplinary segregation unit, where trouble-making inmates are sent for periods of anywhere from five to 60 days.
Prisons officials said the riot started at mid-morning Thursday, when 15 prisoners in the holding unit for OCCC's most dangerous inmates began lighting fires, tearing bunks from the walls and flooding the unit's second floor with water by blocking up toilets and sinks.
"Inmates had apparently gotten a hold of some matches and were trying to light things up, not very successfully because they were contained in their cells, and the staff was very on top of it," said Nolan Espinda, the state public safety director.
Espinda said the inmates claimed to be upset about not getting writing material to file grievances, and not receiving a Bible as quickly as they wanted. They kept coming up with other complaints as guards tried to meet their demands. The second floor of the unit has 12 cells that are supposed to be single-occupancy, but three of them had two inmates in each of them because of overcrowding.
Eventually, five of the 15 inmates gave themselves up but 10 remained in their cells for the uprising, Espinda said.
"We went ahead and organized a planned use of force and we had to forcibly extract them from their cells, including the use of riot shields and riot gear," Espinda added.
Espinda said within an hour, all 10 inmates were cleared from their cells and the rest of OCCC was placed on lock down for more than six hours.
"When we have situations like this that could potentially explode into something bigger, we don't want it to exploding throughout the institution, so we institute the highest security throughout the institution by locking everyone down," Espinda said.
Espinda said one inmate suffered a cut above his eye and no staff reported getting injured.
"Mostly, I want to commend the staff, who put themselves at risk for the safety of the other inmates in the institution who didn't want to be involved and they did a tremendous job," Espinda said. "We've had smaller incidents, but this certainly is a large number of inmates. We regularly have two and three inmates confrontation with staff. But this was a whole floor of the holding unit."
The inmate suspected of leading the riot was being housed in the cell next to his brother, a move some guards said was not wise given his history of creating trouble.
Espinda responded to that situation by saying: "Sometimes it's best to have people of comfort next to them, other times not. In this particular situation, there wasn't any kind of highlight to us that indicated housing brothers in near proximity to each other would be a problem."
The prisoners are expected to face both criminal and administrative charges for rioting.
Sources said the inmate accused of starting the riot is the same man who barricaded himself and another inmate in their cell on January 3, an incident that was never documented by the captain and lieutenant on duty that day, so that's now the focus of an internal investigation.
The inmate's father – who was visiting his other son at OCCC at the time – was allowed behind bars to convince his son to give himself up in the January incident, a move seen as a security breach by some guards.