A federal jury on Wednesday refused to award any money damages to a group of former and current women inmates who were sexually abused by guards at the women’s prison in Kailua. Lawyers representing some of the women said they will ask the judge in the case to overturn that decision.

Lawyers Terrance Revere and Richard Wilson also said they will file a new request for an injunction with federal District Court Judge Jill Otake to force corrections officials to install video cameras in the prison control centers, where many of the sexual assaults occurred.

Along with that filing, Wilson said the lawyers will provide checks totaling $2,500 to actually pay for the cameras they want the state to finally install in the control centers of the Women’s Community Correctional Center to prevent future assaults. They will offer that money to finally put a stop to what Revere called “the WCCC rape factory.”

Womens Community Correctional Center.
A federal court jury found that the former warden at the Women’s Community Correctional Center is not liable for money damages for a series of sexual assaults of inmates by staff there. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

The jury was told that one of the corrections officers involved pleaded guilty and another pleaded no contest to multiple counts of second-degree sexual assault in cases involving the women, but declined to find the warden who was responsible for supervising those officers liable for any damages in the case.

Revere said he does not know what the jury of five women and four men was thinking, but “we think the implications are that this gives a green light to the department to continue ignoring prisoners’ rights and safety.”

The lawsuit was originally filed against the state, the late Director of Public Safety Nolan Espinda, former WCCC Warden Eric Tanaka and former WCCC staffers Chavon Freitas, Taofi Magalei Jr., Brent Baumann, Gauta Va’a and James Sinatra.

Deputy Attorney General Skyler Cruz told the jury on Monday that Tanaka removed each of the officers who were accused of sexual assaults as soon as Tanaka learned of the allegations, and he launched investigations into each case. He also requested that the Department of Public Safety’s internal affairs section take control of the investigations.

The officers involved in the assaults did not have a history of misconduct, and “these officers went out of their way to keep a secret, they didn’t want to get caught,” Cruz said. Tanaka could not be in the prison every hour of every day, and could not respond to problems if he did not know about them, Cruz told the jury.

Cruz also told the jury Tanaka wanted upgrades in the video monitoring systems at the prison, but “that’s not something he had the power to do himself.”

The state Attorney General’s Office said in a written statement that the department “is appreciative of the jurors’ time and service and their consideration of the evidence and law in reaching its verdict.”

Baumann pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree sexual assault in state court in 2020, and Va’a pleaded no contest to four counts of second-degree assault that same year. Both were sentenced to five years of probation.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Leinette Reyes, Dana Baba, Tiana Soto, Monica Alves Peralto and Shawna Tallman. The lawsuit alleges the fear and anxiety caused by the sexual assaults also prompted inmate Dawnielle Panlasigui to kill herself, and her estate is pursuing the case on behalf of her family.

During closing arguments on Monday, Revere asked the jury to award the women $1 million each in damages plus another $100,000 each in punitive damages. He also asked the jury to award $3 million to the estate of Panlasigui.

The lawyers for the women already have won default judgments in the case against some of the corrections officers, but “we can’t get blood from a turnip for these women,” Revere said. He said he doubts the women will receive anything if the jury’s decision stands.

Court transcripts show Tanaka never intended to install cameras in the control centers, but Cruz told the jury Tanaka did want to put more cameras elsewhere, including outside the control booths. That would allow the cameras to monitor who was coming and going from the control centers, and Cruz noted inmates are not permitted in the control centers.

According to previous court rulings in the lawsuit, staff in some cases offered “the promise of privileges” to the inmates, but any sexual contact between an inmate and staff is a felony under Hawaii law because prisoners cannot legally give consent.

Revere said one of the guards gave one of the woman half of a candy bar after one assault, and gave another half of a peanut butter sandwich after an encounter, but Revere rejected any suggestion that the inmates were essentially being bribed for sexual favors.

“To say that these women were doing this basically as prostitutes is even more enraging and ridiculous,” he said. He said there was no evidence presented in the case that there was any “quid pro quo,” and said on at least two occasions women were injured during the assaults.

Womens Community Correctional Center Hawaii prison razor wire barriers.
The lawsuit alleged the state knew that women inmates could be sexually abused in the control centers of the prison because it had happened before. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

According to a federal court filing, about two dozen of the sex assaults occurred in the control stations in 2015 and 2016, and the lawsuit alleges the state knew since 2012 that officers could assault inmates in the control booths without being observed.

That’s because another prisoner named Stormy Rae Smith was sexually abused in a prison control booth in 2012. Corrections officer Irwin Ah-Hoy later pleaded no contest to two counts each of second- and third-degree sexual assault in that case, and was fired.

Smith later sued the state. Her lawsuit was resolved in 2017 after the state and the guard involved each agreed to pay her $50,000.

“There’s been 10 years from 2012 to 2022 with no changes in procedures, women are still not being tracked, and there are no cameras to protect them, which would have made this situation 100% preventable,” Revere said. “It’s bureaucratic arrogance, stupidity and disinterest to the max.”

This is the second time this year that the issue of video cameras at WCCC has surfaced publicly. A walk-through of the prison by staff of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission in August revealed that more than 40% of the video cameras at the facility were not working at that time.

Christin Johnson, coordinator for the commission, called that lack of functioning cameras “a huge, huge red flag,” because it makes it more difficult to investigate fights, allegations of sexual misconduct, smuggling of contraband, and other problems.

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