EXCLUSIVE: Sources accuse women's prison managers of covering up guard assault
KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has uncovered troubling allegations that there's a cover-up underway by supervisors and managers at the Women's Community Correctional Center of an alleged assault by a guard on a woman prison inmate.
Sources told Hawaii News Now the sergeant accused in the case has a record of physically mistreating women inmates and getting away with it. And three sources with knowledge of the case have come forward to say at nearly every step, managers and supervisors at the facility have failed to follow basic procedures and have not conducted a proper investigation.
A 24-year-old female inmate claimed a sergeant at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua assaulted her in the cafeteria of the Olomana unit June 2.
Sources said the dispute started when the sergeant told some inmates to finish their breakfast and turn in their food trays and the woman argued with him and asked him what he was going to do about it. The guard then did a physical take-down of the inmate, sources said, placing his knee in her back while other inmates screamed at him to ease up on her.
Co-workers said he previously punched one inmate in the face using a towel to disguise the injuries but that woman was too scared to come forward and complain.
He was also accused of beating up a third inmate who complained but no discipline resulted.
Sources familiar with the June 2 assault allegation said the accused officer was not placed on 30 days of leave pending investigation, which is routine for allegations of excessive force. He remains on the job, supervising about 80 inmates and several guards on the overnight shift at the Olomana unit where the alleged assault happened.
Contrary to protocol, the inmate was not separated from the sergeant she accused of assault and continued living in the unit he supervised for at least a week and a half after the complaint, sources said.
State Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda declined an on-camera interview, but released a statement that said, "We take all allegations of this nature seriously. The investigative process started immediately upon notification of the alleged incident by the inmate."
Sources said the sergeant's wife, who's also a sergeant at the women's prison and the chief union steward there, was allowed to fill out her husband's "use of force" report after the June 2 incident and she did so in the office of Acting Chief of Security Calvin Pagharion, while he was in the office, even though she was not present at the incident. The sergeant later signed the report that his wife had prepared for him, sources said.
The sergeant initially turned in a very brief report of only about two or three sentences, not the more detailed "use of force" report that was required, sources said.
Pagharion has been the acting warden at the facility for the last two weeks, because the acting warden, Eric Tanaka, is out of the country on vacation. Tanaka is a former deputy warden at Halawa Prison and worked under Espinda who was warden at Halawa before being selected to head the Public Safety Department at the beginning of the year.
"We encourage anyone who has information pertaining to this case to give a statement to our Internal Affairs Office. Because this is an on-going investigation we will refrain from commenting publicly until it is completed," Espinda said.
The people who spoke to Hawaii News Now did so on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation for speaking out publicly. At least one employee planned to send in allegations to internal affairs investigators anonymously.
Another source said prison officials are denying the inmate who complained about the alleged assault access to the phone, "so they violated her civil rights by beating her up and they are violating her constitutional rights but not allowing her to call sheriffs to check on her case."
The state sheriffs division is investigating the case along with the Public Safety department's internal affairs office.
The alleged incident is also under investigation by officials at WCCC, but sources said an investigator there failed to interview inmates who would have corroborated the inmate's version of what happened.
While some prison sources claimed the inmate has started fights with other inmates and is a troublemaker, others said that's not true and is the cover story that's being fabricated to justify the violent takedown and treatment of her by the sergeant. Others described her as a quiet person who generally keeps to herself and hasn't created a lot of problems.
The woman inmate is five feet three inches tall and weighs about 130 pounds, according to prison records. She's small by comparison to the sergeant who tackled her. Co-workers said he's about six feet tall and weighs around 250 pounds, so they wondered how he can legitimately claim he was threatened by a woman so much smaller than him.
She is serving time for felony auto theft.
Sources said contrary to protocol, officials at the prison did not immediately notify Espinda, who heads the department, about the serious allegation of assault.
Neither Espinda nor a prisons spokeswoman would respond to the specific allegations Hawaii News Now raised Tuesday. But the spokeswoman said the department's internal affairs unit would look into all the claims HNN provided to prisons officials and she said Espinda thanked HNN for raising the questions with the department.
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