Witness: MCCC guard promised sex assault victim ‘trouble’ if she talked

Former Maui Community Correctional Center guard James Siugpiyemal (right) sits with his attorney, Ben Lowenthal, on Tuesday afternoon in 2nd Circuit Court. Siugpiyemal is on trial on charges of sexually assaulting an inmate in 2014. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — A Maui Community Correctional Center guard told an inmate she would lose her work furlough privileges if she reported having sexual contact with him, the woman testified Tuesday.

“He said, ‘If I get into trouble, you’re going to get into trouble’ . . . that I’ll lose my work furlough,” the woman said.

She identified the adult corrections officer as James Siugpiyemal, who is on trial in 2nd Circuit Court.

Siugpiyemal, 44, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of third-degree sexual assault of the inmate.

The charges allege he took advantage of his position at the jail to have sexual intercourse and sexual contact with the inmate on July 31, 2014, and Aug. 11, 2014.

Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Coccaro delivers her opening statement to jurors Tuesday morning in the 2nd Circuit Court trial of James Siugpiyemal. The former Maui Community Correctional Center adult corrections officer is charged with sexually assaulting an inmate at the Wailuku jail. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

“Equal protection under the law and abuse of authority — that’s what this case is about,” Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Coccaro said during her opening statement to the jury Tuesday morning. “Even incarcerated people, people who have committed crimes like (the victim) deserve to be protected by the law. And they deserve to be protected by those who abuse their authority.”

Defense attorney Ben Lowenthal, in his opening statement, said the inmate was sentenced to a 10-year prison term for “burglary, theft and using another person’s personal information.” He said the woman “has a history of deception” and first gave videotape evidence to her Oahu lawyer, who filed a lawsuit against the state on her behalf.

“She’s trying to get money out of this,” Lowenthal said.

Taking the witness stand Tuesday afternoon, the 36-year-old Maui woman and mother of three said she has been incarcerated for most of her adult life.

In 2014, she was transferred to the Maui Community Correctional Center and was placed on work furlough as she prepared to reintegrate into the community.

She would leave the jail at 5:30 a.m. for a job at a Kihei condominium complex and return to the facility by 6:30 p.m.

She said she didn’t know Siugpiyemal until he talked to her at the jail in July 2014.

“As I was leaving to go to work, he asked me if that was me on Facebook and I told him no,” she said, referring to a photo of her in a bikini on her Facebook page. “I lied and told him that I couldn’t be on Facebook.”

The next day, as she was again leaving to go to work, Siugpiyemal said he recognized her by her tattoos in the Facebook photo.

Later that day, she said Siugpiyemal called her.

“He let me know that I could be in trouble for being on Facebook,” she said.

She said he asked her to send him naked photos of herself.

She and Siugpiyemal texted and talked on the phone and also communicated on Facebook, where he used the name “James Cook.”

“I was worried that he was going to turn me in for social networking, and I would lose my furlough,” she said.

On July 31, 2014, she met him after work at Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu.

“He wanted to have sex with me,” she said. “I talked him out of having sex.”

She said she agreed to perform a sexual act on Siugpiyemal when he told her that if he got into trouble, she also would be in trouble.

The woman went back to jail and didn’t hear from Siugpiyemal until a day or two later, when he called her and wanted to meet again, she said.

She said she sent him text messages saying, “I didn’t want to get pregnant, that I didn’t want to get in trouble, that I didn’t want to lose my work furlough.”

On Aug. 11, 2014, the woman said she set up a camera on the visor in her car and again met him at Maui Tropical Plantation.

“If I was going to go and meet him again, I wanted to have proof of what was going on,” she said.

“Why did you feel you needed proof?” Deputy Prosecutor Iwalani Gasmen asked.

“Nobody would believe me,” the woman replied.

Siugpiyemal got into the back seat of her car and “I made like nothing,” the woman said, while the camera recorded what happened.

She said she got into the back seat and Siugpiyemal began groping her and making comments about her tattoos.

“Then he had sex with me,” she said.

She said Siugpiyemal said he had to hurry because he had a softball game.

After he left, “I threw up,” the woman said.

The video recording was shown to jurors Tuesday afternoon.

The woman is being housed at the Federal Detention Center on Oahu because she faced retaliation while jailed at state facilities, according to a family member.

After leaving Maui for Guam on Oct. 9, 2014, after an investigation began into the sexual assault allegations, Siugpiyemal was brought back to Maui last year after being located and arrested in Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, officials said.

Judge Joseph Cardoza is presiding over the trial, which was scheduled to resume today.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.


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