HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal judge has awarded a former Oahu Community Correctional Center inmate $30,000 for a December 2015 beating by an adult corrections officer.
While there have been larger awards for prison beatings, the man’s attorney said the verdict will send a message because it orders the prison guard to pay $25,000 of the award.
“My hope is that by getting a verdict against one of these prison guards, it might make these guys twice before they do this sort of thing again," said John Rapp, Luong’s attorney. "There’s way too much of this kind of thing happening.”
Back in 2015, Luong, a 39-year-old native of Vietnam, was in jail for a terroristic threatening charge that was later dropped.
He said he and his cellmates first swore at at ACO Patrick Sooalo, who was a much larger man.
“He’s way bigger than me. I’m 142 pounds, he’s 450 pounds something,” Luong said.
Rapp said the guard then took matters into his own hands.
“(The) guard took Luong, pulled on him, gave him a rabbit punch on the back of his neck, knocked him out with one blow," said Rapp.
Sooalo offered a different account. He testified that he suspected the inmates were smoking contraband and that when he entered their jail cell, one of Luong’s cellmates collapsed, knocking Luong off his seat, hitting the back of his head.
But Federal Judge Leslie Kobayashi didn’t believe him. She awarded Luong $5,000 in general damages and $25,000 in punitive damages. Typically, the state does not pay the punitive damages, the individual does.
“The only way we’re going to stop this is if the guards know they can be personally dragged into court and potentially have to pay this,” Rapp said.
The Department of Public Safety said Sooalo is still an employee but it wouldn’t say whether it conducted an investigation.