The “shakedown” was partly prompted by unconfirmed reports that the beating death of an inmate was recorded on a cellphone, according to staff.

A cell-by-cell search of two modules at the Oahu Community Correctional Center turned up an array of contraband including methamphetamine, illegal steroids and cellphones, hints of an alarming pattern of corruption that likely involves some employees, according to OCCC staff.

Staff at the OCCC, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the search, said the “shakedown” was triggered in part by unconfirmed reports that a fatal attack on an inmate earlier this month was recorded on a cellphone.

The search at the state’s largest jail began Friday at Module 13, which houses gang members. Christopher Vaefaga, 36, was discovered dead in a cell in that module with head injuries on July 6, and Honolulu police have classified the case as a murder.

Oahu Community Correctional Center media day.
A search of cells in two modules at the Oahu Community Correctional Center turned up illicit cell phones, drugs and other contraband (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022).

Staff reported that Vaefaga was discovered dead in his cell after an unidentified caller contacted the facility to request that corrections officers check on a prisoner who had been beaten. It appeared Vaefaga had been dead for hours.

Staff said a variety of contraband was seized Friday from the cell of a reputed gang leader in Module 13, including phones and phone chargers, drugs, needles for injecting drugs, vaping products and tools such as screwdrivers.

Similar items were found dumped in the common areas of Module 17 — another area used to house gang members , according to staff.

Department of Public Safety’s corrections officers and internal affairs staff members were involved in the search along with state sheriff’s deputies and state Narcotics Enforcement Agency staff, said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for Public Safety.

Staff said the search, which Schwartz described as a “planned action,” included the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

Schwartz said in a written statement that “undisclosed contraband items” were recovered during the search but declined to elaborate. She said internal and criminal investigations were initiated, but no arrests have been made.

OCCC has limited inmates’ families and friends to no-contact visits since 2016, but cell searches still frequently reveal that inmates have concealed contraband.

However, the volume of the material seized on Friday and the number of cellphones that were discovered was disturbing to some staff as it may suggest that some employees failed to do their jobs or were corrupt.

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