Assault of guards at OCCC highlights unsafe conditions for staff

Published: Oct. 1, 2017 at 5:12 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 1, 2017 at 5:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three guards at Hawaii's largest jail suffered facial and head injuries Saturday night after being attacked by a mob of inmates.

Sources tell Hawaii News Now that the three Adult Corrections Officers (ACO) at Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) were escorting a group of inmates from their housing module to the medical unit around 7 p.m. Saturday to receive their medication.

That's when roughly 18 inmates attacked.

"I've been involved now with the department for a while and I feel like it's really gone down and the safety is being more and more jeopardized," said one veteran OCCC Sergeant who asked to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation.

The three ACOs were taken to the hospital in serious condition and the module was immediately placed on lock down.

Before the attack, the Sergeant says seven modules housing a total of 485 inmates, were already on lock down due to staff shortage.

Only one ACO oversees each module.

The Sergeant say tensions were high when inmates were finally let out of their units Saturday night.

"There were comments made like 'you keep locking us down see what happens, you keep (expletive) doing this to us see what happens'," he said. "There were few that were involved in the ruckus the other few were sort of watching and blocking the view of the camera. They knew what they were doing, it seemed planned."

He says unsafe conditions are routine.

OCCC is designed to house 629 inmates but the facility holds upwards of 1,100 inmates.

It's a situation so unsafe that guards believe their lives are in jeopardy.

"You feel helpless and all alone, you feel like they don't care," he said.

'They' being the state Department of Public Safety.

Director Nola Espinda said in a statement Sunday:

"We are relieved that this situation ended without major incident and the staff are doing ok. We never want to see these types of things happen to our employees, but everyone who works in a prison knows that dangerous situations can happen at any time. That's why all staff go through extensive training so they are prepared to react immediately and stabilize the situation. They followed through with their training and I commend them for a job well done."

Sen. Will Espero says its time management puts workers' safety first.

"It's important we make certain that all of our stations are manned properly and that the guards have the proper training and they have the resources necessary in order to carry out their jobs," Espero said.

"You can only push a human so much in that manner until they break," the Sergeant said.

Officers were only able to identify seven of the inmates involved in the attack. They were sent to the holding unit.

Both a criminal and internal investigation are underway.

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