DPS: Hilo jail disturbance erupted as a protest to a shakedown contraband search

Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 3:32 PM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Department of Public Safety officials say Tuesday’s Hilo jail disturbance started as a protest to a shakedown search for contraband.

Around 3:45 p.m., inmates at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center started the ruckus after DPS said the search was performed in that particular housing unit, the A-wing of the Wainuenue housing module.

Trisha Gives was in the area when it all started. She said she could hear screams from inside the facility.

“The inmates were screaming, yelling, cursing, cussing. Mostly they were screaming, ‘Help! Get me out! They treat us like dogs!’” said Gives.

DPS said early reports indicate that overcrowding was not a contributing factor to the rising tensions.

“Stopping contraband from entering any correctional institution is a continuous effort that our staff prioritize to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our staff, the community, as well as the inmates. The staff were doing their job to eliminate a suspected contraband pathway and the fact of the matter is, the inmates didn’t like it. Ultimately, it’s about safety of inmates, our correctional officers and civilian staff, and the public,” said Fred Hyun, Special Master of DPS.

County police and State Sheriffs were called in to help secure the perimeter of the facility as firefighters worked to put out a fire started by the inmates. At least one ambulance was also dispatched.

DPS said that responding personnel “used non-lethal means to subdue inmates, gain compliance and bring order back to the housing unit by 5:30 p.m.”

During the ordeal, only minor injuries were reported. One staff member was taken to the hospital for minor injuries and released Tuesday night. Meanwhile, eight inmates were also taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation. They reportedly suffered minor injuries including smoke inhalation.

Those inmates were also cleared to return Tuesday night to HCCC. Medical staff continue to check in on inmates to ensure that those who have requested a medical consultation are seen.

“There are 25 inmates in that housing wing who will all be questioned to determine what prompted the unrest and who was directly involved. Inmates found culpable will be criminally and administratively charged,” officials said Tuesday night.

The inmates housed in Waianuenue are sentenced felons serving short prison sentences of less than 2 years, DPS said.

An complete assessment of damage continues. Officials say inmates broke windows and security screens, and set mattresses, plastic chairs and books on fire. A damage estimate was not immediately available.

The criminal investigation is ongoing.

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