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Inmate injured in 2019 riot sues state, cites overcrowding

Lawsuit alleges department failed to keep prisoners safe

The Maui Community Correctional Center is pictured on March 11, exactly two years after a riot broke out at the jail, causing millions of dollars in damages to the facility and putting staff and inmates in fear for their lives. Now, an inmate who was injured in the riot is suing the state Department of Public Safety, alleging it failed in its duty to keep prisoners safe amid “overcrowding and brewing inmate problems” at the jail. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — An inmate who was injured in a riot two years ago at the Maui Community Correctional Center is suing the state Department of Public Safety, alleging it failed in its duty to keep prisoners safe amid “overcrowding and brewing inmate problems” at the Wailuku jail.

Kevin Lifoifoi suffered a broken jaw, head contusions and an eye injury that required surgery when he was attacked March 11, 2019, according to a complaint filed March 10 of this year in 2nd Circuit Court. It says inmates broke out of cells and caused a riot that included property damage and injury to jail occupants that day.

The department reported that inmates caused millions of dollars in damage, by setting fires, tearing nonworking phones off the walls and ransacking cells. Jail staff and inmates both said they feared for their lives as fights broke out, smoke filled the modules and flooding occurred.

In an administrative process covering the fire and riot, 18 inmates were found guilty. Those found guilty in connection with the fire were assessed $1,358 each, and those found guilty for both the fire and riot were assessed $2,716 each, the department reported.

Shortly after the riot, the 18 inmates were moved from the Wailuku jail to Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu.

The court complaint says the inmate count at the jail was 40 percent over capacity for a safe level of housing. The complaint alleges that the state hadn’t dealt with the severe overcrowding and poor conditions in a timely manner, preventing Lifoifoi from protecting himself by avoiding the attack.

Through jail employees and staff, the department knew or “should have reasonably been aware of the overcrowding and brewing inmate problems,” the complaint says.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said Monday that the department hadn’t been served with the lawsuit.

“We have been advised not to comment on possible pending litigation,” she said.

Wailuku attorney Matthew Kohm filed the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified general and special damages.

Lifoifoi, 37, of Kahului was sentenced in January 2020 to five years in prison for two counts of unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle, second-degree theft and second-degree unauthorized entry into a dwelling, according to court records.

Records show Lifoifoi is now incarcerated at Waiawa Correctional Facility on Oahu.

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

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