Lawyers for current and former inmates who were sexually assaulted at the women’s prison in Kailua years ago are again asking a federal court judge to order the state to finally install cameras in the control booths at the prison, where they say many of the assaults occurred.

Lawyers Terrance Revere and Richard Wilson are also asking for a default judgment in the women’s favor in a lawsuit they filed over the assaults, or a new trial in the case. They argue the state Attorney General’s Office withheld important evidence in both a 2020 jury trial that ended in a mistrial, and also in a second trial that ended last month.

The jury in that second trial in November found that Eric Tanaka, the former warden of the Women’s Community Correctional Center, was not liable for the actions of prison staff who were involved in the assaults. Lawyers for the women had been seeking more than $8 million in damages, but the federal court jury awarded them nothing.

Revere and Wilson earlier this month renewed their previous request that U.S. District Court Judge Jill Otake order the state to install cameras in the control booths at the women’s prison.

Court filings allege there were more than 50 sexual assaults of inmates by staff at the prison in 2015 and 2016, and about two dozen of those occurred in the prison control stations.

Women's Community Correctional Center located in Kailua, Oahu.
Lawyers for current and former inmates are pressing the state to install cameras in the control booths at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua to prevent sexual assaults at the facility. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Staff in some cases offered snacks, methamphetamine and special privileges to the inmates involved, but the lawsuit alleges the women were coerced, and characterizes the sexual misconduct as “rapes.” Any sexual contact between a prison inmate and staff is a felony under Hawaii law because prisoners cannot legally give consent.

The use of the control stations for sexual misconduct has been an issue for years, and lawyers for the women allege the state knew since at least 2012 that officers could assault inmates in the WCCC control booths without being observed. That was when another prisoner — Stormy Rae Smith — was sexually abused in a prison control booth at the same facility.

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

The issue of poor quality video monitoring in the women’s prison has also been a longstanding issue. Consultant Buford Goff & Associates Inc. inspected the camera equipment at WCCC in 2013, and noted the equipment was in poor condition, with cameras that did not work and video quality that was described as “very poor.”

The report concluded “the facility could benefit greatly from the addition of a substantial CCTV and digital video recording system.” It also recommended that older cameras be replaced to provide higher quality video, and cameras be added to support operations and provide “video evidence for investigations.”

‘Huge Red Flag’

More recently, a walk-through of WCCC by staff of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission in August revealed 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.

When asked if 40% of the cameras at WCCC still aren’t functioning, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in a written statement last week that “the length of time that cameras are down, and the number of cameras down varies. Often cameras are fixed only to be damaged again by inmates within a matter of weeks or months.”

The state “is currently attempting to replace outdated cameras that are not functioning, repair those that can be repaired, and install additional cameras in blind spot areas,” an effort that is being financed with federal funds, according to the statement.

Schwartz also said a contract has been was awarded to Bowers + Kubota Consulting Inc. to do assessments statewide aimed at replacing or updating cameras, wiring and software at all facilities. State procurement records show that a $70,000 contract was awarded to the consultant on Oct. 21.

Site visits for that effort are expected to start in early January, and the department expects a final report on the assessment in February, Schwartz said in her statement.

Revere and Wilson have publicly offered to put up $2,500 of their own money to cover what they say would be the modest cost of installing cameras to observe what happens in the WCCC control booths, and they repeated that proposal in a federal court filing earlier this month.

Revere said in an interview last week the importance of cameras as a deterrent to sexual assaults in prison is “blindingly obvious to anyone who has looked at this issue.” He added: “They know it’s a problem, they just don’t want to do anything about it.”

But Schwartz said prison officials cannot accept the lawyers’ offer to pay for cameras themselves. The department “is required to follow procurement law and put the project out to bid. The actual cost for an institutional grade camera system will be determined through the solicitation and subsequent winning bid,” she wrote in her statement.

Women's Community Correctional Center located in Kailua, Oahu.
The issue of poor quality video monitoring in the women’s prison has also been a longstanding issue. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In the meantime, the lawyers for the current and former women inmates are asking Otake to grant a default judgment in the women’s favor or grant a new trial in the case, alleging misconduct during both previous trials by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office did not produce the 2013 Buford Goff report calling for upgrades in video surveillance until the fifth day of the 2020 trial, a failure that Otake described in a 2020 sanction order as “egregious.” She imposed sanctions for that lapse in 2020 that included requiring the state to pay some lawyers’ fees.

Revere now argues the state again failed to produce documents in the trial last fall. In a Dec. 16 filing, he alleged the state failed to produce minutes of 2015 and 2016 meetings between Tanaka and his staff until after the second trial had ended.

Those minutes show Tanaka considered purchasing wireless cameras to deter thefts at the prison. That was important because state officials testified in the second trial Tanaka wanted new cameras, but did not have the authority to buy and install them.

However, the minutes of the staff meetings showed that Tanaka did have that authority, according to the filing by Revere. The filing alleges Deputy Attorney General Skyler Cruz still had not produced all of the staff meeting minutes even after the second trial ended.

“These significant and serious discovery shenanigans have precluded the Plaintiffs, again, from receiving a fair trial,”  according to the Revere filing.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the filing. The state has until Jan. 12 to file a reply.

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

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.

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