An inmate who was locked in a cell with two others in a jail module for inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 was apparently beaten to death Monday evening at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, jail staff reported.

The death marks the second time in less than two weeks that a prisoner in the Hawaii correctional system has died after being assaulted.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety said in a written statement that OCCC staff were alerted to an inmate-on-inmate assault at about 9:05 p.m. Monday. Vance Grace, 62, was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11:43 p.m.

Grace was awaiting trial for a charge of promoting prison contraband, according to the spokeswoman. Jail staff said the attack occurred in Module 7, which is currently being used as a quarantine area for prisoners who test positive for the coronavirus.

OCCC is the scene of the largest COVID-19 infection cluster in the state, with 352 infections among the staff and inmates there as of Monday. It is the largest jail in the state, and in mid-August housed 864 men and 109 women prisoners.

An inmate was apparently beaten to death Monday evening at Oahu Community Correctional Center. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Jail staff said the incident allegedly began when an older inmate demanded sex from a younger prisoner, and the younger inmate attacked him. Corrections officers were reportedly unable to immediately open the cell door to intervene because the key did not work properly, and an inmate inside the cell had to use a fail-safe mechanism inside the cell to help staff to open the door.

Two of the prisoners were then removed from the cell, but the door locked again, leaving the injured man locked inside until a locksmith could be summoned, staff said.

Honolulu Police arrested 27-year-old Ezequiel Zayas in connection with the case. Zayas was being held at the jail pending trial on charges of first- and second-degree burglary, according to the spokeswoman.

This is the second apparent beating death within the state system in August. On Aug. 19, convict Harry Hoopii, 70, died after being attacked by another inmate at the Halawa Correctional Facility’s special needs unit. Halawa is the state’s largest prison, and houses nearly 900 men.

Toni Schwartz, public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety, said in a written statement that staff were alerted to a reported inmate-on-inmate assault at Halawa at 10:15 a.m. on Aug. 19.

Hoopii was then taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and was pronounced dead at 11:34 a.m., according to the statement.

Hoopii was serving two life sentences with the possibility of parole. One life term was imposed in connection with a stabbing of a man in Kalihi in 1983, and another life term was imposed for the abduction and sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl as she walked home from school later that same year.

Schwartz said the incident is under criminal and administrative investigation. Honolulu police were called in to investigate, and inmate Kumulipo Sylva is a suspect in the assault, according to a written statement from Schwartz in response to questions. Sylva is serving a sentence for manslaughter.

Sylva was convicted of killing Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo with a cane knife in the bathroom of a Maui mall in 2018, and testified at his trial that he believed Cerezo was “one of Satan’s minions.”

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