A Circuit Court lawsuit filed this week alleges that a 23-year-old prisoner at Hawaii’s largest jail was murdered by other inmates after being accused of “being a snitch” who provided police with information about an alleged murder-for-hire case involving Michael Miske.

Miske, a former Honolulu businessman, was charged along with nine others in 2020 as part of what federal prosecutors describe as a wide-ranging racketeering organization that engaged in kidnapping, murder, drug trafficking and armed robbery.

According to the lawsuit, James Borling-Salas in 2016 provided information to Honolulu police about the alleged murder-for-hire of 21-year old Jonathan Fraser, who disappeared in July 2016.

Miske is charged with planning Fraser’s kidnapping and murder in a murder-for-hire plot.

Oahu Community Correctional Center.
James Borling-Salas was fatally beaten by members of a prison gang at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, according to the lawsuit. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Borling-Salas was jailed in the fall of 2019 for violating probation after being convicted of unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, and was severely beaten by other inmates in an Oahu Community Correctional Center dormitory called Annex 1 on Dec. 14, 2019.

Borling-Salas lapsed into a “vegetative state,” and died on Jan. 16, 2020, according to court records.

The lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of Borling-Salas’ mother Janet Salas by the law firm of Eric Seitz, and it alleges corrections officials never told Janet Salas about the beating. Instead, she learned about it from other inmates, according to the court filing.

Borling-Salas had been threatened by members of the La Familia prison gang, and he had expected “retribution,” the lawsuit said.

He reported the threat and was placed in protective custody but was later moved to a holding unit in the fall of 2019 as punishment for a disciplinary violation. When his time in the disciplinary unit ended in November, Borling-Salas was not moved back into protective custody.

Jonathan Fraser disappeared in 2016. FBI

Instead, the lawsuit alleges he was placed in the general population of the jail and was attacked by three inmates in Annex 1 the following month.

According to the lawsuit, corrections officials took 10 to 15 minutes to respond to the attack and Borling-Salas was not taken to The Queen’s Medical Center until three hours after he was beaten.

The lawsuit alleges corrections officials knew the video cameras in Annex 1 were not functioning at the time of the attack and later had them fixed. However, “my understanding is there were lots of witnesses,” including staff, Seitz said in an interview.

“There aren’t a whole lot of places over there that are unsupervised, or are incapable of being supervised,” Seitz said. “Our belief is, this was not a situation where it happened in a place and a time and a manner where staff were prevented from intervening, had they been willing to do so.”

The civil lawsuit names three inmates as defendants because they allegedly beat Borling-Salas, but no arrests have been made in the case, said Gary Yamashiroya, who is special assistant to Attorney General Holly Shikada. Yamashiroya said the case is still under investigation.

“As far as I know, everybody knows who they were, it’s no secret,” Seitz said of the inmates. He added: “It’s beyond my comprehension that nobody … has made an effort to bring a criminal case against these guys. I’m utterly floored by that.”

Janet Salas spoke with an investigator from the state Attorney General’s office after her son died, and was told the investigation is at a “dead end,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also names former Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, OCCC Warden Francis Sequeira, and four as-yet unidentified adult corrections officers as defendants in the case.

The suit alleges the Department of Public Safety and corrections officials failed in their duty to ensure Borling-Salas’ physical safety.

Yamashiroya declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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