Relatives of Halawa inmates who died of COVID criticize prison officials

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Published: Feb. 14, 2021 at 8:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Family members of several Halawa inmates who died of COVID-19 last month said the state did not do enough to protect the prisoners from getting infected.

A total of five men died last month at the prison, including “Bobby” — whose sentence would have been completed next week.

“Knowing the situation, it’s like you’re automatically giving them a death sentence,” said his sister, Charla Manuel.

Manuel said her brother was looking forward to coming home after spending more than two decades behind bars.

“His daughter was building a tiny home for him on the property on Makawao. You know he was excited to get out, excited to meet his grandchildren,” she said.

Manuel said Bobby was in Pali Momi Medical Center for three weeks before the family was informed. He died 10 days later at age 57.

Roland Kehano Jr.’s father, Roland, Sr., was in prison for murder and was supposed to get out next year. COVID killed him last month. Kehano also faults prison officials for not doing enough.

“They never try move the inmates around or anything or what not. It was like they just left them there, you know what I mean,” said Kehano.

“This is the few of the many more inmates that are going to end up dying too.”

Reform advocates have been warning the state since the beginning of the pandemic to take better precautions to prevent the spread of the virus in the prison system.

Attorney Eric Seitz is now suing the prisons for not doing enough.

“They did not remove people who were sick until they had confirmation that they actually had the disease. By that time, it was too late they had already spread the symptoms to other people,” Seitz said.

The Department of Public Safety said medical privacy prevents officials from commenting but added the department “has gone to great lengths to make sure a comprehensive plan is in place to safeguard the health of all inmates and staff.”

It said it disinfects the facilities and continues to monitor inmates for symptoms and makes health checks twice a day.

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