A disturbance at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Tuesday afternoon was triggered by a “shakedown” search for contraband in the Waianuenue housing unit of the jail, and was apparently not triggered by overcrowding at the facility, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

The incident that police described as a “riot” caused a number of injuries, including a jail staff member who was taken to Hilo Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries and released Tuesday night.

Eight inmates were also transported to the hospital to be evaluated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation, and were all medically cleared and returned to the facility Tuesday, according to a written statement from the department.

Hawaii County Firemen place an inmate on a gurney after inmates caused an affray late Tuesday with a fire and barricade at Hilo’s HCCC correctional center. Photo: Tim Wright
Hawaii County fire fighters place an inmate on a gurney after inmates caused an affray late Tuesday with a fire and barricade at Hilo’s HCCC correctional center. Tim Wright/Civil Beat/2020

Medical and mental health staff circulated through the housing units Wednesday to make sure all inmates who request a consult are seen, according to the statement.

“Stopping contraband from entering any correctional institution is a continuous effort that our staff prioritize to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our staff, the community, as well as the inmates,” said Fred Hyun, newly appointed special master to the Department of Public Safety.

“The staff were doing their job to eliminate a suspected contraband pathway and the fact of the matter is, the inmates didn’t like it,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about safety of inmates, our correctional officers and civilian staff, and the public.”

Maria Cook, deputy director for administration for the department, added that “we commend the HCCC staff for quickly enacting their emergency response plan, deploying their teams and bringing order to the module swiftly, as they were trained to do.”

Damage to the housing unit is still being assessed, but inmates broke windows and security screens, and there was smoke damage from the fire as well as water damage from the activation of the sprinkler system. Cost estimates are pending, according to the department.

Hawaii County police are conducting a criminal investigation and will determine if there will be any criminal charges. An internal investigation is also ongoing, according to the department.

There were 25 inmates in the housing wing where the disturbance started. Prisoners housed in Waianuenue are sentenced felons serving short sentences of less than two years.

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