The settlement is surprising because a federal court jury refused to award any damages to the women after a trial last fall.

In a surprise move that follows two lengthy federal court trials, the state has finally agreed to pay $2 million to settle claims by current and former women prisoners who were sexually abused by staff at the women’s prison in Kailua.

The settlement approved by federal Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield on Friday resolves years of litigation by five women and the family of a sixth former inmate who eventually committed suicide, according to the women’s lawyers.

Attorneys Terrance Revere and Richard Wilson said the state also agreed as part of the settlement that prison officials will use their “best efforts” to install new cameras inside or just outside the guards’ control booths at the prison. The women reported dozens of assaults occurred inside the control booths.

Women's Community Correctional Center.
The settlement to resolve claims of sexual abuse at the Women’s Community Correctional Center includes a pledge by the state officials to install new digital cameras by the end of this year to deter future assaults.(Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Revere and Wilson said Attorney General Ann Lopez was directly involved in the settlement negotiations that finally resolved the case.

“I am pleased that we can put this case to rest,” said Lopez in a written statement. “This settlement recognizes that these women were victims while in the State’s custody and that they should receive a measure of justice for the harm the (adult corrections officers) caused them.” 

The settlement is surprising because a federal court jury refused to award any damages to the women after a full-blown trial last fall.

The lawsuit in connection with the alleged sexual assaults at the Women’s Community Correctional Center was first filed in 2017 on behalf of Leinette Reyes, Dana Baba, Tiana Soto, Monica Alves Peralto and Shawna Tallman.

It also alleged the fear and anxiety caused by the sexual assaults prompted inmate Dawnielle Panlasigui to kill herself, and her estate pursued the case on behalf of her family.

Named as defendants were the state, the late director of the Department 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.

Baumann had 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.

But the lawsuit filed by the women ended in a mistrial in 2020, and a second civil trial was held last fall.

Deputy Attorney General Skyler Cruz told the jury last year 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.

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.”

Revere asked the jury in last year’s civil trial to award the women $1 million each in damages plus another $100,000 each in punitive damages, and $3 million to the estate of Panlasigui.

But the jury rejected the women’s claims, and awarded no damages. Revere and Wilson then asked federal District Court Judge Jill Otake to overturn the jury verdict and force the state to install video cameras in the guards’ control booths.

That request was still pending when the state agreed to the new $2 million settlement. The state Attorney General’s office did not respond to a written inquiry asking why the state suddenly agreed to settle the case.

The Legislature will need to appropriate money to fund the settlement next year before payment can be made to the women.

State lawmakers this year considered a bill to require that digital cameras be deployed in the prison control booths. However, that measure died after prison officials testified they had already contracted with a consultant to review surveillance security systems in all correctional facilities statewide.

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