The state says the labor board exceeded its authority and made a “clearly erroneous” decision regarding Jonathan Taum.

The Hawaii Attorney General’s Office is appealing a decision by the state labor board that requires that a corrections sergeant who is serving a federal prison term be reinstated with back pay to his job at the Hilo jail.

Big Island

The Hawaii Labor Relations Board on Feb. 21 ordered that Jonathan Taum receive at least six years back pay and be reinstated to his job at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center because the state prison system botched his firing in 2016.

Taum is serving a 12-year federal prison sentence after he was convicted in a trial last year on charges he violated the civil rights of inmate Chawn Kaili, then lied to cover up the misconduct.

Last week, the Attorney General’s Office appealed that decision to the Circuit Court in Honolulu.

Lawyers for the state declared in the appeal that former Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda testified that firing Taum “was solely his decision based on his review of the video, the findings, and his 35 years of correctional experience.”

The filing contends Espinda never relied on a use-of-force report on the incident by a discredited training officer “since the video made it clear that (Taum) used excessive force on (the prisoner) and failed to properly supervise” the other corrections officers.

Hawaii Community Correctional Center located in Hilo.
The state is appealing a decision by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board that requires that the Hilo jail reinstate a fired corrections sergeant and give him more than six years of back pay. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

“The video of the incident, which shows a brutal beating of (the inmate) at the hands of four ACOs including complainant, speaks for itself,” according to the filing.

Espinda died last year.

The appeal alleges the labor board exceeded its authority and made a “clearly erroneous” decision based on the evidence and the law when it ordered Taum reinstated with back pay.

Ted Hong, a lawyer who represents Taum in the case, said in a written statement that the appeal of the labor board decision is “shameful and a waste of taxpayer money.”

What Happened

According to the Justice Department, Taum was supervising three other corrections officers when they transported the prisoner across a recreation yard at the Hilo jail on June 15, 2015.

The inmate became frightened during the transfer, and “Taum’s fellow officers took the non-violent inmate to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked him in the face, head, and body — breaking the inmate’s jaw, nose, and orbital socket,” according to a DOJ statement.

“Thereafter, Taum led the officers in a cover-up conspiracy that included writing false reports, submitting false statements to internal affairs, and providing false testimony to disciplinary board members,” federal officials said in the statement.

The beating of the inmates was captured on video, and the state Department of Public Safety fired Taum and three other officers in December 2016.

However, the labor board last month ordered that the department reinstate Taum with back pay and pay penalties of $10,000.

The labor board decision concluded that corrections officials erred when they fired Taum because they relied on a use-of-force report in the case that was prepared by another corrections employee who had falsified her credentials.

That employee, former DPS Training Officer J. Marte Martinez, was later charged with two counts of felony perjury for allegedly lying under oath about her records and credentials during Taum’s labor board hearing.

The state Attorney General’s Office also charged Martinez with six misdemeanor counts of tampering with a government record, and six counts of making unsworn false statements to authorities for misrepresenting her academic history.

In its decision last month, the labor board declared that if it is not feasible to reinstate Taum, the department must “provide compensation in lieu of reinstatement.”

The labor board also fined the Public Safety Department $10,000 after faulting it for “refusing, failing, and inhibiting the disclosure that Martinez was unqualified.”

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