Jail lockdown lifted morning after disturbance

One module unusable; investigation continues

A lockdown at the Maui Community Correctional Center was lifted Tuesday morning, a day after inmates broke fire sprinklers and started a small fire, causing significant damage to two modules housing pretrial inmates.

The disturbance in one module was reported just before 3 p.m. Monday, when 42 inmates refused to leave a common area to return to their cells when recreational time was over, according to a news release from the state Department of Public Safety. Another 52 inmates complied with the order to return to their cells.

Inmates who refused to comply began breaking fire sprinklers, which began shooting out water in the common area, according to the news release. Maintenance workers shut off the water system.

“Noncompliant inmates also started a small fire in the common area and smoke drifted to an adjacent module, where inmates there started a lesser disturbance,” the news release said.

Waiale Road fronting the jail was closed for about 15 minutes as police cars, firefighters and medics responded.

Preliminary reports indicated that at 4:24 p.m., jail staff and police began negotiations with inmates and many inmates “voluntarily and peacefully” left the modules, the news release said. At 4:49 p.m., jail staff entered through an emergency exit door and by 5:15 p.m. all inmates were secured and accounted for, the news release said.

At 6:13 p.m., inmates in the second module were evacuated before the situation was declared contained by 6:26 p.m., according to the news release.

No inmate injuries were reported. Three staff members were treated for minor injuries, including an injured finger, a cut to a foot from shattered glass and skin irritation from pepper spray exposure, according to the news release. All three staff members returned to work.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said the disturbance is under investigation internally by the department and criminally by the Maui Police Department.

“Staff are questioning inmates to determine who started the disturbance and why they started it,” she said. “Once the inmates responsible for the incident are identified, they will be brought up on criminal charges as well as internal disciplinary action, pending the outcome of the investigations.”

Someone who was at the jail at the time said inmates were upset over longstanding issues of not having phones in the module to call out, sporadic mail delivery, minimal food and no menu of meals, along with limited offerings for purchase of food, such as ramen noodles.

In the melee, sinks and toilets were broken along with cell doors. A storage unit, which was broken into, contained batteries, razors and sanitary napkins, some of which were used by inmates to fuel the fire, said the person, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Schwartz said damage estimates are pending.

She said one module isn’t usable because of extensive damage.

“The inmates from that module are being rehoused in other areas in the facility,” she said. “The cells in the second module that had the lesser disturbance are still usable and inmates were returned to their cells last (Monday) night.”

She said inmates can make phone calls from other modules.

The facility-wide lockdown, which was put in place when the disturbance began, was lifted at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Schwartz said.

“All programs are running,” she said.

In a statement, Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda thanked jail staff “for their professional, measured and effective response to the disturbance.”

“Their coordinated actions brought a potentially much larger situation under control while keeping themselves safe and the inmates secured throughout,” Espinda said.

While he hadn’t heard details about what caused the disturbance, Maui supervising Deputy Public Defender William “Pili” McGrath said overcrowding has been an issue at the Wailuku jail.

Cells meant to house two inmates in close quarters are holding four inmates, with two sleeping on the floor — one with his head under the toilet, McGrath said.

He said he hasn’t heard complaints about guards, and food in the jail has improved.

“They complain they get a little bit less, but they eat it all,” McGrath said. “The deal is it’s the crowding. How can you expect people that are all detoxing to be crowded like that and not have things happen? This is one of those things that got out of hand.

“All the other issues are just jail issues. The crowding, it’s endless. It’s ridiculous.”

McGrath said the crowding could be eased by releasing inmates arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors and saving the roughly $4,000-a-month cost of housing them in jail.

“Most of the inmates are misdemeanor nonviolent clients,” he said. “The way to resolve this problem should be to release the nonviolent misdemeanor offenders on supervised release.”

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