Mother of inmate who died following beating at OCCC joins lawmakers in seeking answers

Updated: Feb. 1, 2020 at 8:51 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A grieving mother is joining lawmakers in seeking answers about her son’s death following a brutal beating in OCCC in December.

Janet Salas took cell phone video when she first saw her son in a hospital bed at the ICU of the Queen’s Medical Center on December 28.

In the video, James Borling-Salas has tubes coming out of his mouth and nose and is unconscious.

Borling-Salas was brutally beaten 14 days earlier at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

But his mother says no one from the Department of Public Safety reached out to her to let him know he was in the hospital. It was other inmates who called to tell her about the attack at the jail.

In the beating, Borling-Salas suffered a severe brain injury and ended up on life support.

James Borling Salas
James Borling Salas(Janet Salas)

After learning of her son’s condition, Salas got a judge to grant his release from the Department of Public Safety’s custody and he was allowed to go home for hospice care.

“I brought him home," she said. “I brought him home on the 15th of January and on the 16th of January, he took his last breath with me — in my room.”

Salas said an investigator with the Hawaii Attorney General’s office called her days later.

She described the conversation: “You have no idea who did this to my child? Or what happened to my child? There’s no camera footage of what happened in Annex that day? He said ‘yes.’”

Hawaii News Now has learned getting answers from the state Department of Public Safety about inmate deaths is not just hard for families.

Last year, lawmakers wrote a law that required the agency to release details on inmate deaths.

Public Safety started providing data in July 2019. Their figures show two deaths in August, three in October, one in November and one in December.

But state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, of the Public Safety Committee, said the reports were heavily redacted. There were no names or details on how the inmates died..

“It blew my mind. I never saw so much blacked out pieces of paper," Nishihara said.

And the list does not include the beating death of Borling-Salas.

“It seems like they’re too concerned about giving information that might reflect badly on them. But on the same token if you don’t tell us what occurred how do we know there’s oversight on how they run the prison?” Nishihara asked.

Salas said she understands that some people are not going to show sympathy toward an inmate, but she reminds them that even those locked up should be protected while in the custody of the state.

“Just because our children enter OCCC or Halawa or Women’s, it doesn’t mean that they no longer exist. Their family out here matter and care about these people," she said.

Borling-Salas was in OCCC for a probation violation.

In letters to his mother, he described his struggle with drug addiction.

James Borling-Salas
James Borling-Salas(None)

The last communication she had with her son was when he sent her a Christmas card.

She said the envelope was stamped Dec. 16, two days after he was beaten unconscious.

Another issue with the card: The return address seemed altered — like the original writing was erased. It showed it came from Module 11, but she insists he was in Annex 1.

Salas said her son had expressed concern for his safety and was put in protective custody.

She doesn’t know why he was sent back to Annex 1, and without cameras or any other inmates brave enough to come forward the people who fatally beat him might never be caught.

Salas said one thing she is grateful for: That her son died with her instead of at OCCC.

“When he was born, he took his first breath of life with me," she said, "and he took his last breath of life with me.”

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