HONOLULU - The family of a Hawaii inmate strangled to death at a private prison in Arizona is suing the state of Hawaii and Corrections Corporation of America, saying the death would have been prevented if the state didn't ship prisoners to a Mainland facility that neglects them.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of Clifford Medina's family comes three months after the family of another Hawaii inmate in the same prison filed a wrongful death suit. The inmate was stabbed to death.
The complaint claims prison operators failed to control gang violence and adequately staff Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz. His family's lawyers say Medina, 23, was strangled by a 22-year-old cellmate who warned prison officials to separate them. Medina died in June 2010.
"The last time I ever talked to him was when he was in a Hawaii facility," Medina's aunt Beverly Medeiros said Wednesday.
"And then my sister got the call, and that was . . . the first and last time I ever found out he was there (in Arizona)," she said of learning about her nephew's death.
Medeiros spoke during a news conference organized by the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She stood next to Medina's sister, Reseanna Medeiros, who clutched an urn with her brother's ashes.
Steve Owen, a spokesman for the Corrections Corporation of America, said officials for the Nashville, Tenn.-based company had not yet had a chance to review the specifics of the lawsuit. But he said safety of its facilities, employees and inmates are the company's top priority.
"We take all allegations seriously and act swiftly if our standards have not been met," Owen said in an email.
According to its corporate website, the Corrections Corporation of America owns or operates 60 facilities throughout the country with about 75,000 prisoners and detainees from about 25 states, more than a dozen local municipalities and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The company earned $162.5 million in 2011 on $1.74 billion in revenue.
The medium-security Arizona prison where Medina died has room for more than 1,900 inmates and takes prisoners from Hawaii only.
Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Hawaii's Department of Public Safety, said the case had been referred to the state attorney general's office and declined further comment.
Sanford Rosen, a lawyer for Medina's family, said the prison should have classified inmates better so Medina, who was developmentally disabled, wouldn't have been housed in a two-person cell with a prisoner with anger and violence problems and reluctant ties to a dominant Hawaii prison gang.
Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center said Hawaii should have kept better track of conditions at the prison.
Aging facilities and a lack of beds require Hawaii to house almost 1,800 inmates in Arizona prisons. Hawaii lawmakers have had discussions on how to bring them back, most recently during the legislative session that ended this month, but they have no firm plans.