18 prison guards punished for contraband, other violations

18 prison guards punished for contraband, other violations
Published: Feb. 10, 2015 at 9:12 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2015 at 10:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Disciplinary records released by the Public Safety Department Tuesday showed that 18 corrections officers were punished for wrongdoing in 2014 for everything from contraband violations to mistakenly releasing an inmate before his sentence was served.

Six corrections officers – the most of any disciplinary category last year -- were punished for breaking contraband rules.

Mark Damas was the only prison guard fired last year, for breaking contraband rules in a big way.

Damas admitted to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to smuggle crystal meth into Halawa prison and was sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison.

Five other guards, known as adult corrections officers, were suspended for anywhere from three to 15 days without pay for taking their own cell phones into prison facilities.

"To me, the misconduct cases speak to the need to conduct searches of ACOs when they report to work and when they leave. To me, that would weed out the cases in which they bring in, accidentally or not, contraband," said State Rep. Gregg Takayama, who chairs the State House public safety committee.

For more than a year, the state has been negotiating with United Public Workers, the union that represents prison guards, to allow them to be searched, which is standard procedure in many mainland prisons.

"Even though negotiations have been ongoing for quite a while, I'm hoping that they can reach some kind of agreement on that, because to me, if we want to preserve safety in our correctional facilities, I think that's (searching prison staff before they enter facilities) very important," said Takayama, who previously worked as a spokesman for the state Public Safety Department.

The second-most-serious suspension last year was 30 days for a corrections officer in a workplace violence case involving a co-worker.

Another guard was suspended for 15 days for posting an unauthorized photo of an inmate on social media.

Overall, Takayama said 18 guards disciplined in a year is not that bad.

"It doesn't seem exceedingly high, but of course, any number is cause for concern. I think we have to consider the fact that we have 1,500 ACOs, they have a tough job," Takayama said.

In a statement, state Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said, "Most of our employees are dedicated and hard-working individuals. However, there are a few who will make poor choices, to include bringing in contraband."

Under their union contract, prison managers can force corrections officers to work a second eight-hour shift if they need to staff essential posts.

In two cases last year, prison guards were suspended for five days without pay when they disobeyed orders to work the next watch after working their regular shifts.

A prison guard at Maui Community Correctional Center was suspended for three days after he mistakenly released an inmate before he had served all of his 30-day sentence.

But the guard discovered the mistake quickly and prisons officials found the inmate within a couple of hours, and put him back behind bars, a prisons spokeswoman said.

Another guard who kept an inmate in prison longer that he was supposed to was suspended for three days.

Two other corrections officers served five-day suspensions for being arrested for driving under the influence off duty.

Another guard was suspended for five days for creating a hostile work environment.

Two sheriffs deputies were disciplined last year because one of them assaulted an inmate and the other one -- a supervisor -- failed to deal with the assault properly, according to a summary released by the Public Safety department.

But neither of them was suspended because Public Safety officials took too long to investigate the case, a spokeswoman said.

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