Local family of murdered inmate files lawsuit
Second lawsuit this year connected to Arizona prison
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.
Clifford Medina, 23, was incarcerated at the CCA-operated Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona as part of a program in which the Hawaii Department of Public Safety sends state inmates to private, for-profit prisons on the mainland.
Medina was killed by another inmate on June 8, 2010.
The wrongful death suit was filed Wednesday 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.
The complaint also says the state 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. Click here for a copy of the complaint.
On February 15 of this year, 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.
Nunuha’s family is represented by the same legal team that filed today’s complaint over Medina’s wrongful death. The state has asked the court to transfer that case to Arizona.
Medina, 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. He was particularly vulnerable to manipulation and violence by other inmates, and the lawsuit alleges state officials had knowledge of his developmental disabilities and mental health condition.
Medina's attorneys say the state transferred Medina to CCA’s Saguaro facility and CCA failed to take reasonable steps to address Clifford’s vulnerability. Instead, CCA officials housed Medina with violent inmates, including gang members, and did not take adequate precautions to ensure his safety.
Medina 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 Medina to another cell or he would attack him. 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 Medina 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 Medina lay dead or dying, they did not become aware that Medina was dead until Silva later notified them.
Attorneys say while Hawaii prisoners Medina and Nunuha 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.
In addition to the murders of Medina and Nunuha, 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 state Attorney General's office says it is looking over the filing and will take the appropriate course of action.
Copyright 2012 by KITV All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.