Two other prisoners considered suspects were members of rival gangs who were locked up together in the same cell, staff said.

A prisoner who was found dead in the state’s largest jail was apparently beaten after he and two other inmates from rival gangs were locked in a cell together, according to sources familiar with the incident.

Honolulu police have classified the case as first-degree murder, but no arrests have been made. If the case proves to be a murder, it would be the fourth time since early 2020 that an inmate in the state correctional system was beaten to death.

Staff at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the case, said an unidentified caller contacted the facility Thursday evening to request that corrections officers check on a prisoner who had been beaten.

Officers then found the 36-year-old male inmate dead in a cell in Module 13 with obvious head injuries, and said it appeared the man had been dead for hours because the corpse was stiff, staff said.

OCCC Oahu Community Correctional Center.
Staff say they were alerted by an anonymous caller that an inmate at the Oahu Community Correctional Center had been beaten, and corrections officers then found the dead man in a cell with two other prisoners. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz identified the slain inmate as Christopher Vaefaga, who was awaiting trial on a charges of harassment and second-degree assault involving a victim who was 60 years old or older.

Police said in a written statement “it was determined that the inmate may have been assaulted by two other male inmates.” That part of the jail is used to house gang members, and jail staff said the dead man and the two other men in the same cell were each members of different gangs.

Christopher Vaefaga, 36, who died at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. (Courtesy photo Department of Public Safety)

Schwartz said OCCC security and medical staff responded to a medical backup call at 8:30 p.m. and found an inmate “unconscious and unresponsive in his housing unit.”

Staff immediately began administering aid, and performed CPR until the medical examiner arrived and “officially pronounced the inmate deceased” at 9:26 p.m., Schwartz said in her statement.

Honolulu police said in their statement they had identified a 33-year-old man and a 41-year-old man as suspects. The HPD homicide detail and the department’s scientific investigative section assisted with the investigation at the scene. Schwartz said an internal investigation is also underway.

Staff at the jail said corrections officers at OCCC have routinely been working shifts of 24 hours or longer because of staff shortages. That has led to extremely fatigued officers, which increases the likelihood that staff will make mistakes or overlook potential problems.

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