Honolulu, HI – May 23, 2012 – For the second time in three months, the family of a Hawaii prisoner murdered at a private prison in Arizona filed a lawsuit against the State of Hawaii and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) (NYSE: CXW).  A copy of the complaint is available here: Complaint in Medeiros v. State of Hawaii and CCA

Clifford Medina, a 23-year-old citizen of Hawaii, was incarcerated at the CCA-operated Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona as part of a controversial practice in which the Hawaii Department of Public Safety (DPS) sends state inmates to private, for-profit prisons on the mainland.  Clifford was killed by another inmate on June 8, 2010.

The wrongful death suit was filed today in Circuit Court on behalf of Clifford’s mother, sister and two of his aunts, both of whom also acted as Clifford’s hanai mothers. According to the complaint, CCA’s “pattern of greed-driven corner-cutting and short-staffing” contributed to Clifford’s death, due to the company’s deliberate indifference and failure to protect Clifford from harm. The complaint contends that CCA failed to control gang violence at Saguaro, failed to properly classify prisoners and failed to adequately staff the prison. Further, the State of Hawaii contributed to Clifford’s death “by abdicating responsibility to inmates in its charge” by turning them over to CCA, and then failing to adequately monitor conditions at Saguaro. 

On February 15, 2012, the family of Bronson Nunuha, another Hawaii prisoner who was brutally murdered at the Saguaro facility four months before Clifford was killed, filed a lawsuit against the State of Hawaii, CCA and state and CCA officials, alleging similar deficiencies at the privately-run prison. Bronson’s family is represented by the same legal team that filed today’s complaint over Clifford’s wrongful death.  The State of Hawaii has asked the Court to transfer that case to Arizona.

“Another Hawaii family is suffering today because of the staffing deficiencies and indifference to the safety of prisoners demonstrated by Corrections Corporation of America and the State of Hawaii.  We can expect that, to its shame, the State again will try to send this case to the mainland in order to help CCA limit its exposure,” said attorney Sanford Jay Rosen of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, who along with the Human Rights Defense Center and the ACLU of Hawaii represents the Medina family.

“The murders of Clifford Medina and Bronson Nunuha underscore the need for Hawaii to end its practice of ‘subcontracting’ our prisoners’ care to a for-profit company. CCA gets huge amounts of taxpayer money, which, instead of being used for safe keeping and rehabilitation, is banked to advance its profits. CCA puts profit ahead of people. The result: two murders and widespread allegations of sexual and other violent assaults within their facilities,” added Daniel Gluck, Senior Attorney with the ACLU of Hawaii. 

Clifford, serving a 5-year sentence following a probation violation, had an extensive history of participation in special education programs designed to help him with his developmental disabilities. He had been diagnosed with moderate mental retardation during his childhood. Thus, he was particularly vulnerable to manipulation and violence by other inmates, and state officials had knowledge of his developmental disabilities and mental health condition.

Nevertheless, DPS transferred Clifford to CCA’s Saguaro facility, far from his family, and CCA failed to take reasonable steps to address Clifford’s vulnerability. Instead, CCA officials housed Clifford with violent inmates, including gang members, and did not take adequate precautions to ensure his safety.

Clifford was placed in a segregation cell with prisoner Mahinauli Silva, 22, who was serving up to 10 years for robbery, burglary and theft. Silva was reportedly a member of the dominant prison gang at Saguaro and was known to have anger control problems. Shortly before the murder, Silva told CCA officials to move Clifford to another cell or he would attack Clifford. According to a witness, a CCA employee replied, “As long as you two don’t kill each other, I don’t care.”

On June 8, 2010, Silva murdered Clifford by strangling him to death in their shared cell. Although CCA staff conducted rounds in the housing unit, periodically looked in the cell and even spoke with Silva while Clifford lay dead or dying, they did not become aware that Clifford was dead until Silva later notified them.

Notably, while Hawaii prisoners Clifford and Bronson were killed at the CCA-run Saguaro prison in Arizona in 2010, no state prisoners were murdered in DPS-operated facilities in Hawaii during that same year.

“While CCA has received millions of dollars from the State of Hawaii for housing inmates in the company’s for-profit prisons, Hawaii prisoners – including Clifford Medina – have needlessly died as a result of CCA’s failure to protect them,” said Alex Friedmann with the Human Rights Defense Center.

CCA prisons that house Hawaii prisoners have experienced numerous problems. In addition to the murders of Clifford and Bronson, over a dozen Hawaii prisoners have filed lawsuits against CCA claiming that the company has tolerated beatings and sexual assaults in its mainland facilities, and has refused to let them participate in native Hawaiian religious practices. Additionally, in 2009, Hawaii removed all of its female inmates from CCA’s Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky following a scandal that resulted in at least six CCA employees being charged with rape or sexual misconduct.

The attorneys representing Clifford’s family ask anyone with information about his death – or information about Bronson Nunuha’s murder or violations of safety or security policies at CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center – to contact them. All inquiries are confidential.

The case is Medeiros v. State of Hawaii, et.al., State of Hawaii, Circuit Court of the First Circuit, Case #12-1-144105.

Selected Press Coverage:

Inmates family sues state over his murder at Arizona prison, Hawaii News Now TV, May 23, 2012

2nd lawsuit filed for Hawaii inmate death in Arizona, Associated Press, May 23, 2012

Three months, two lawsuits, one mainland company, Hawaii Public Radio, May 24, 2012

Private prison giant CCA has been sued again for letting a prisoner get killed, Business Insider, May 24, 2012

Murder in a private prison, family says, Courthouse News Service, May 25, 2012

Lawsuit filed over death of second Hawaii inmate, Hawaii Civil Beat, May 23, 2012

State sued in second prison inmate murder case, Hawaii Reporter, May 23, 2012

Family of Hawaii inmate killed in Arizona prison sues State, CCA, Honolulu Star Advertiser, May 23, 2012

Media Contacts: 

Alex Friedmann, Associate Editor, Prison Legal News (A project of the Human Rights Defense Center), Mobile: 615-495-6568 afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org
Sanford Jay Rosen, Senior Partner, Rosen, Bien & Galvan,  Office: 415-433-6830, x206, srosen@rbg-law.com                          
Kit Grant, Press Secretary, ACLU of Hawaii, Office:  808-522-5904 Mobile: 808-232-9697 kgrant@acluhawaii.org  

The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

 Rosen Bien & Galvan, LLP has a unique practice blending public interest and private sector litigation.  The firm represents individuals and companies in complex trial and appellate litigation in state & federal courts.  More information at rbgg.com.

 The ACLU of Hawaii’s mission is to protect the fundamental freedoms contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide.