Inmate's family sues state over his murder at Arizona prison

Published: May. 23, 2012 at 9:46 PM HST|Updated: May. 24, 2012 at 1:28 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The family of a Big Island man who was 23 years old when he was murdered in his cell at an Arizona prison is suing the state of Hawaii, the prison operator, and others for wrongful death.

Clifford Medina's older sister Roseanna Medeiros and two of his aunts spoke outside Circuit Court in Honolulu after the suit was filed Wednesday.

"He was a special needs child. You know, and we were there for him and he just was kind hearted. He was really loving," said Lokelani Medeiros, Medina's aunt.

Medina was being held at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona doing time for a probation violation stemming from theft and burglary convictions. Saguaro Correctional Center is a for profit prison built specifically for inmates from Hawaii. The facility is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

In June, 2010 Medina was found strangled. His cell-mate, Mahinauli Silva, was indicted for the murder.

"The state of Hawaii abdicated its responsibilities to and in favor of CCA and failed to assure that appropriate measures and oversight are exercised for the protection of Hawaii residents and prisoners," said Sanford Rosen, a California attorney on the family's legal team. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Vermont Based Human Rights Defense Center are also representing Medina's family.

The suit claims CCA has a history of "greed-driven corner-cutting." It alleges CCA failed to adequately staff the prison, and ignored threats Silva made against Medina.

"CCA had the opportunity right then to prevent his murder by taking that threat seriously and separating those two inmates. Their failure to do that directly led to Clifford being murdered," said Alex Friedmann, an attorney with the Human Rights Defense Center.

Medina was one of two Hawaii inmates killed at Saguaro in 2010. His family believes he would still be alive if the state had kept him incarcerated in Hawaii where not one inmate was killed in 2010.

Suit seeks as much as $1 million.

According to the Department of Corrections Hawaii has 1,677 inmates in Arizona. Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a plan to bring the majority of them back to the islands by 2018.