The daughter of an inmate who died at a Hawaii island prison is suing the state Department of Public Safety, saying the guards let him bleed to death instead of calling for help in time.
Cheyenne Chong filed suit in 1st Circuit Court on behalf of her father, Wesley Chong, who died while in custody in 2017 at the Kulani Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison in Hilo.
The complaint alleges that correctional officers found Chong, who was serving a life sentence for manslaughter, “bleeding profusely” in a bathroom with lengthwise cuts on both forearms on June 15, 2017.
But instead of calling emergency services right away, the guards ordered another inmate to drag him out of the bathroom and handcuff him, said Gina Szeto-Wong, one of the attorneys representing the daughter.
“They didn’t render any medical aid,” she said. “Instead they just waited and they just put him into solitary confinement, where he later died.”
The inmate who was ordered to cuff Wesley Chong tried to wrap strips of clothing around his forearms to stop the bleeding, but the guards ordered him to stop, the complaint also said.
Only after a significant amount of time had passed did the guards call for an ambulance, Szeto-Wong said. By then, Chong had been taken to a segregated housing unit and was dead by the time a prison official arrived to perform CPR.
Public safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said the department has not yet been served with the lawsuit and would not comment on pending litigation.
It said that at about 2:45 a.m. prison staff responded to distress calls in one of the dorms and that staff began administering aid. A staff member called 911, according to the news release, and another performed CPR until emergency personnel arrived to take over at 3:36 a.m. Chong was pronounced dead at 3:43 a.m.
“Foul play has been ruled out by responding law enforcement entities,” the news release also said.
Szeto-Wong says the staff was negligent on many levels.
“I think one of the more egregious things is that the family members were not told the specific circumstances,” she said. “They were kept in the dark until the inmate who said he was forced to cuff the deceased came forward and spoke out.”
Further, the attorney said the inmate who tried to help faced retaliation after he filed a grievance regarding the incident.
A correctional officer told him he would be transferred to Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu, a medium security prison, if he continued to complain, the complaint alleged.
“Obviously, for the family, they want justice,” the attorney said.
But deaths inside prison walls in Hawaii aren’t being handled properly in general, she said. “We don’t think that it’s an incident that’s isolated at DPS,” she added.
Szeto-Wong said the public safety department should evaluate how it handles inmate deaths and injuries.
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