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Death investigation underway after Hawaii inmate with COVID found unconscious in cell

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 3:28 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 10, 2021 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A death investigation is underway after sources say a 30-year-old inmate sick with COVID was found unresponsive in his cell at Halawa Correctional Facility on Thursday.

The news comes days before an oversight committee is set to begin investigating the alleged failure of the state to control the spread of the virus within its correctional facilities.

Inmate advocates say it’s at least the 10th COVID-related death of a prisoner that’s currently under review within the Hawaii state correctional system.

Corrections officials confirm staff responded to a medical call after an inmate had been found “unconscious and unresponsive” in his cell just after 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

An hour and a half later that man was pronounced dead at the hospital.

HNN sources say the inmate had been diagnosed with COVID about 10 days ago and was being treated by the prison’s medical staff.

Attorney Eric Seitz is representing all inmates who’ve contracted COVID ― and are at risk of catching the virus ― as part of a class action lawsuit against the state’s correctional facilities.

He said he hadn’t heard about the death on Friday.

“I am very concerned and disturbed,” he said.

He’s supposed to be receiving daily reports from the prisons regarding any deaths related to COVID. A settlement reached earlier this week also grants an oversight committee access to the facilities.

“They’re going to be able to talk directly to medical staff. It’s not going to be filtered through the leaders of the Department of Public Safety,” Seitz said. “So we’re hoping to find out what the dynamics are of some of these cases ― in particular the ones that have led to deaths.”

Corrections officials wouldn’t confirm if the inmate who died had been diagnosed with COVID, saying only that the “official cause of death is pending determination by the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

Seitz said it’s vital more questions be asked about the fatality.

“If this guy was previously diagnosed, what kind of follow-up care was provided to him? What kind of surveillance, medical surveillance was initiated to ensure that he actually recovered?” he asked.

Since August 2020, seven COVID-positive inmates have died in Halawa Correctional Facility, state data shows. Additionally, two Hawaii inmates with COVID died at Saguaro Correctional Center.

Meanwhile, 154 prisoners and 32 staff members have active COVID infections statewide.

“We hope to get this under control,” said Seitz. “That’s our objective.”

The Medical Examiner’s office says it was not ready to publicly identify the inmate and has not determined his exact cause of death.

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