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Attorney: $1.4M award in prisoner suicide case underscores state’s ‘indefensible’ actions

Joey O'Malley was 28 years old when he was found hanging in his Halawa cell in 2017.
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 5:32 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 30, 2022 at 11:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state Circuit Court judge has awarded nearly $1.4 million to the family of a Halawa prisoner who killed himself while on safety watch at the facility in July 2017.

The 28-year old was in an observation room, which is a cell with a large window so the corrections officers can constantly monitor the inmates, but was able to hang himself without detection.

He was one of three prisoners who committed suicide at the facility that year.

Family attorney Tommy Otake said the state didn’t even argue the case, admitting they did not do enough to help those suffering from severe mental illness.

“The treatment, in our minds, was so inhumane,” Otake said, in a news conference.

“The violations were so significant, that the state acknowledged ― to their credit ― it was indefensible. They admitted that their violations, their negligence caused his death.”

The bench trial was held to decide damages.

O’Malley was placed in Halawa as part of a six-year sentence for robbing a cab driver with a fake gun.

During that time, he bounced between Halawa and the State Hospital. His family wanted him permanently placed at the State Hospital, where he received medication and therapy sessions.

Instead, he was put in isolation at the prison, locked up for 23 hours a day.

“Joey’s life meant something to a lot of people,” said his father, Michael O’Malley. “To me, my wife, his siblings, his extended family and friends. He was not a throw away kid.”

O’Malley said he and his son loved going to Sandy Beach.

Joseph O’Malley suffered from severe mental illness, his family said. He was bipolar but his condition could be controlled with strict treatment.

Michael Livingston, another family attorney, said the state Department of Public Safety actually had strong safety procedures but, in this case, the procedures were not followed.

“Long list of violations of their own policies,” said Livingston.

“Our understanding is that they’ve already made some changes, although they haven’t been very forthcoming about what those changes have been.”

The Department of Public Safety declined to comment, saying they needed time to review the findings.

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