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Inmate lawsuit claims severe beating by HCCC guards; ‘repeated, systemic use of excessive force’ alleged

Corrections: 
In the final sentence of the 11th paragraph, a prior version of this story omitted the words “against inmates,” which changed the meaning of the sentence. The Tribune-Herald regrets the error.

An inmate has filed suit against the state Department of Public Safety, a retired warden of Hawaii Community Correctional Center, an adult corrections officer and four former ACOs, alleging he was unlawfully restrained and severely beaten by guards while incarcerated at HCCC two years ago.

Attorney Steve Strauss filed the civil lawsuit Wednesday in Hilo Circuit Court on behalf of 33-year-old Chawn Kaili, who’s serving a five-year prison sentence at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., on a drug paraphernalia conviction. In addition to DPS, defendants include retired warden Peter MacDonald, ACO watch commander Jon Waikiki, former ACO Sgt. Jonathan Taum and former guards Gregory Pinkney, Jason Tagaloa and Joshua Demattos.

The complaint, which accuses defendants of battery, failing to seek timely medical attention for Kaili and covering up the alleged beating, seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs for violating Kaili’s constitutional rights to due process and freedom from excessive force.

Kaili also alleges Taum, Pinkney, Tagaloa and Demattos “comprised in part or whole a group of individuals who collectively referred to themselves as the ‘Alpha Dawgs’” and “that a purpose, if not the sole purpose, of the ‘Alpha Dawgs’ was the intentional violation of civil rights of incarcerated persons … often in connection with illegal interrogations” conducted by Pinkney, Tagaloa, Demattos and/or Taum. The suit claims Pinkney, Tagaloa and Demattos “each weighed in excess of 250 pounds” and that the Alpha Dawgs “used their positions of authority to intimidate and attempt to intimidate inmates.”

The suit alleges that during the late-night hours of June 15, 2015, and/or the early morning hours of June 16, 2015, Pinkney, Tagaloa and Demattos “without provocation and acting under color of authority and under the direction of” Taum, detained Kaili “in an isolated inmate recreation area then not in use, where they unlawfully restrained and severely physically assaulted and battered him.”

Kaili claims the three former guards beat him with their fists and kicked him to his mouth, jaw, face, head, neck and back, breaking Kaili’s jaw and causing facial scarring and other injuries. He thinks that at least a portion of the attack was captured on surveillance video.

The filing also claims the defendants denied Kaili immediate and appropriate medical treatment, instead putting him in a holding cell for about two hours before using “unlawful physical force … to extract him from the holding cell before transporting him to the local hospital.”

According to the suit, “Kaili’s jail-issued clothing was so saturated with his blood that it was discarded by Department of Public Safety personnel.” Kaili also alleged that “one or more Defendants falsely reported to medical personnel that Plaintiff Chawn Kaili had injured himself in an attempt to cover up their wrongful conduct.”

Kaili claims he experiences pain and depression from the alleged beating he suffered.

Kaili also claimed that in the months leading up to the alleged assault on him, defendants “engaged in similar unlawful conduct against other inmates, causing approximately 7 such inmates to be emergency medically air-evacuated to Honolulu trauma centers for treatment of serious and/or life-threatening injuries.” According to the suit, prior to the Alpha Dawgs, the Department of Public Safety “allowed the formation of a group of Adult Correctional Officers known as ‘the Predators’ for the same or similar unlawful purposes.”

The suit alleges “the formation and operation of the ‘Alpha Dawgs’ unit constituted official policy, and that Waikiki and MacDonald “acted on behalf of” DPS “with full knowledge in allowing the ‘Alpha Dawgs’ unit to conduct its illegal activities.” It claims that at a minimum, MacDonald “was deliberately indifferent to the repeated, systemic use of excessive force by his subordinates against inmates, including Plaintiff Chawn Kaili.”

Strauss declined comment.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in an email Thursday that the department hasn’t been served with the lawsuit and “would reserve comment until we have received it and have had time to consult with our legal counsel.”

Schwartz said MacDonald retired Dec. 31, 2014, Taum, Pinkney, Tagaloa and Demattos “are no longer employed with the Department of Public Safety” and the last day of employment for all four was Dec. 23, 2016. She did not disclose whether they quit or were fired. Schwartz said Waikiki is still employed by DPS and assigned to HCCC.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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