EXCLUSIVE: Short-staffing meant OCCC sgt who died worked at key post alone

Published: Jul. 9, 2013 at 9:05 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 10, 2013 at 1:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The veteran Oahu Community Correctional Center sergeant who apparently suffered cardiac arrest while on duty was alone because the second guard assigned to work with him had been moved because of a staff shortage elsewhere in the prison, sources told Hawaii News Now.

OCCC staff said the incident showed the effects of short staffing and mismanagement at the prison and a key state senator raised concerns about the episode.

OCCC Sgt. Michael Makiya, 62, died at the hospital the night of June 15, after he was discovered slumped over while he was working in the highly-secured "central control" room at the Kalihi prison.

Makiya was alone in the center that monitors surveillance cameras, controls cell doors and holds weapons and ammunition for guards, sources said.

According to those familiar with the investigation, a second guard scheduled to be working with Makiya in central control had been re-assigned to a prisoners' module 19 at OCCC because of a staffing shortage there.

"One would think that a control room that has such an important part of security, especially for the employees as well as the inmates, would have a backup plan and a second person, just like an airline has two pilots," said State Sen. Will Espero (D- Ewa, Ewa Beach), who chairs the State Senate Public Safety Committee.

The OCCC watch commander on duty that night could not locate a key to get into the secured area where Makiya had fallen ill, sources said.

Photos obtained by Hawaii News Now show the two doors that guards had to break down to get to him.

"That is unacceptable and that is a huge failure on the part of the Department of Public Safety and someone needs to be held accountable for that failure," Espero said, referring to managers being unable to locate a key to get into the critical control center.

At the direction of an OCCC lieutenant, some corrections officers kicked in one of two doors leading to Makiya's secured post.

Sources said one corrections officer found a weightlifting barbell and used it to pry open the second door.

And while all that was going on, another guard grabbed a metal paper cutter and started bashing the window on the door to the control center, hoping to break through the glass and reach through the hole and open up the door.

Because it's a highly-secured area, the door's window was difficult to break and there was a metal mesh behind it, a source said.

Makiya died at a nearby hospital and sources said the central control doors were not repaired for more than 24 hours after the incident.

"It certainly looks like the Department of Public Safety's procedures and processes internally and in their operations need a thorough review and possibly a major overhaul," Espero said.

Prisons officials said they cannot release information until they complete an investigation of the incident.

"We are looking at the timeline, what went wrong, what went right, and what corrective actions we need to take, as well as, who is responsible for this corrective action ," said Max Otani, the deputy director for corrections in a statement.

Otani added, "What we are learning from this incident will help us improve our procedures at all of our facilities statewide."

"We have gained some insight and learned a lot of valuable information from last week's critical incident debriefing," Otani said.

Makiya is the second OCCC employee to die on the job recently.  On May 31, a 45-year-old social worker, Malcolm Lee, Jr., collapsed and died after suffering an apparent cardiac problem.

That happened as Lee was trying to help a corrections officer break up a fight between two women inmates at OCCC, sources said. OCCC employees said that guard's post was not properly staffed at the time of that incident because it lacked a sergeant there to help respond to fights and other problems.

The United Public Workers union, which represents prison guards, has complained for years that the state has not properly funded its prisons, resulting in short staffing that the union has repeatedly said puts the safety of inmates, employees and the public at risk.

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