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More inmates flown to Oahu; court issues arising

Sixteen more inmates from Maui Community Correctional Center, who played a role in the disturbance or riot last week at the jail, were flown to Oahu and transported to the Halawa Correctional Facility without incident on Wednesday as disruptions were reported in 2nd Circuit court proceedings.

Twenty-one inmates who were identified as “aggressively” participating in the March 11 incident were flown to Oahu on March 14. The new wave of inmates sent to the Halawa facility “participated in a smaller capacity” and did not start the incident “but it was confirmed that they played a role in the disturbance and the immediate aftermath,” a Department of Public Safety news release said Wednesday.

Five inmates were returned from the Halawa facility to MCCC on Wednesday, the news release said. Follow-up interviews and investigation confirmed that the five did not contribute to the disturbance.

“The original list of inmates was based on preliminary intel and questioning, which was subject to change once more facts came in,” the department said, adding that questioning of inmates continues.

Once all inmates responsible for the incident are confirmed, they will be brought up on criminal charges as well as internal disciplinary action, the department said. The disturbance remains under investigation internally by the Department of Public Safety as well as criminally by the Maui Police Department.

The flight with the 16 inmates arrived on Oahu at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday; they were transported to the Halawa facility by 11 a.m. without incident, the department said.

In all, 32 inmates from MCCC are currently at the Halawa facility, the department said. There are about 410 inmates currently at MCCC, which has a capacity of 301 beds.

On March 11, there was what the department has called a “disturbance” but inmates and others have called a “riot” at the Wailuku jail. Forty-two inmates from Module B refused to leave a common area to return to their cells after recreational time was over, the department said last week.

The inmates broke fire sprinklers and started a fire in the common area, causing smoke to drift into an adjacent module. The incident was declared contained about three hours later, but not before Waiale Road fronting the jail was closed for a time and a large police and fire presence assembled.

Significant damage was reported to two modules with common areas unusable. Inmates were returned to “fully or partially operational” cells, the department said last week.

The modules involved in the incident housed pretrial detainees and attorneys have expressed difficulty in communicating with their clients.

At a 2nd Circuit Court hearing Wednesday for an inmate who had been transferred to Halawa Correctional Facility, Deputy Public Defender Tyler Stevenson said he unsuccessfully had tried to call the inmate at the Oahu prison.

“It is going to prove challenging” to reach Maui inmates at Halawa prison, Stevenson said.

“Correctional officers are only going to be allowing them to make contact through postal mail,” he said.

Bail hearings that had been scheduled Wednesday for some inmates were delayed because employees preparing bail studies weren’t able to contact inmates in the aftermath of the disturbance last week.

In a letter to 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill, the Department of Public Safety said it was unable to perform a bail study on Friday on a defendant in a kidnapping and felony abuse case with a court hearing at 8 a.m. today.

“Maui Community Correctional Center remains in lockdown status in certain modules for safety reasons in which access to inmates is strictly prohibited at this time due to recent prior inmate riotous activities that resulted in the destruction of facility living quarters as well as phone lines, rendering them unusable at this time,” the letter dated Tuesday said.

“It is unclear when contact with defendants will be allowed to resume again,” the letter said.

Other attorneys have mentioned delays in parole hearings and inability to contact inmates in Module B since the incident.

The Department of Public Safety and the state Judiciary said that teleconferencing or video conferencing could be used in cases where inmates are on Oahu with court proceedings on Maui.

One inmate last week chose to admit to a probation violation and be resentenced to a 5-year prison term to get out of MCCC. Kaleo Kuahuia, 28, who was in Module B during the incident, said in court on March 13 that “MCCC is the worst jail.”

“We all hoping to go Halawa or go to the feds,” he said, referring to the Federal Detention Center on Oahu.

Kuahuia, who was on probation in a stolen car case, said at his resentencing that there were no toilets and sinks in the cells and inmates suffering injuries.

Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda visited the Wailuku jail on Tuesday, surveyed the damage and complimented jail staff for “an amazing transformation.”

“I saw firsthand today the difficult conditions staff have to work in,” he said in a news release from the department Tuesday. “I also saw an amazing transformation. Modules that looked hurricane-ravaged one week ago are clean and orderly.

“There is still a lot of restoration to do, and I told the warden that we will get their work stations back to operating order.”

On Tuesday, the department reported that common areas were clean but unusable until new security windows can be installed, damaged security doors replaced and new tables and chairs put in. All of the items have been ordered.

Individual toilets and sinks in some cells and tier showers were destroyed. Alternate unrestricted toilet and restricted shower access is being provided.

Vendors and contractors are conducting assessments and will provide estimates on restoration to fixtures, including sinks and toilets, in the cells. A restoration company was called in over the weekend to assess the fire and water damage and is expected to submit an estimate this week.

Inmate phones that were destroyed were replaced and are operational, the department said.

Asked about costs for repairs and whether the department had the funds or required a legislative appropriation, department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz replied Tuesday: “We are still assessing as the costs continue to be tracked.”

Inmates have had out-of-cell recreation time, restricted to three cells at a time in one-hour increments. Medical staff continue to circulate through the modules to make sure all inmates who request medical attention are seen, the department said.

“I am proud of the MCCC staff for coming together as a team to support each other during this difficult time and under less-than-optimal conditions,” said Espinda, who walked through the damaged modules with the warden and staff as they explained recovery efforts.

The department is blaming “extreme overcrowding” at the jail as the motivation behind the disturbance and subsequent unrest.

One inmate told The Maui News that the riot began after a meeting between jail officials and inmates over broken phones. Another inmate said the riot broke out because of “unstable, inhumane conditions and unconstitutional living conditions.” He cited overcrowding, delayed repairs, uncollected mail and broken phones, among other things, as conditions that precipitated the riot. Both remained anonymous for fear of retribution.

To alleviate overcrowding, the department is planning a new $7.5 million, 80-inmate module at the Wailuku jail, Schwartz said. The 2017 Legislature appropriated the construction funds for the project.

Maui County state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran said Monday that if the design gets done soon, “next year is probably a good target date for construction.”

MCCC houses pretrial detainees, inmates with shorter sentences and inmates with longer terms nearing the end of their sentences.

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

** This story published Thursday, March 21, 2019, has been corrected.

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