A group of current and former female inmates is asking a federal judge to require that cameras be installed in all of the control stations at the women’s prison in Kailua after the inmates say they were sexually assaulted by corrections officers in the stations.

The filing last week in Honolulu federal court alleges the state has known corrections officers could assault women inmates in the control booths without being observed since 2012, when prisoner Stormy Rae Smith was sexually abused at the prison. However, the filing alleges prison officials failed to install cameras to protect the inmates, and more assaults followed.

More recently, a walk-through of the prison by staff of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission in August revealed that more than 40% of the video cameras at the facility were not working.

Christin Johnson, the coordinator for the commission, called that lack of functioning cameras “a huge, huge red flag.”

The women’s prison has a very long history of alleged sexual assaults and sexual misconduct cases involving staff and inmates there, including cases that triggered firings, arrests, convictions and prison time for some staff.

Women'S Community Correctional Center Located In Kailua, Oahu.
A staff member walks through a cottage at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua. A group of inmates is asking a federal judge to order the state to install cameras in the control stations at the facility. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

One example was the Stormy Smith case, in which Smith saved DNA from one of her encounters with veteran corrections officer Irwin Ah-Hoy in a control station bathroom. Ah-Hoy later pleaded no contest to two counts each of second- and third-degree sexual assault in the case, and was fired. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail and five years probation.

Smith went on to sue the state, and that lawsuit was resolved in 2017 after the state and Ah-Hoy each agreed to pay $50,000 to Smith.

Testimony in the current lawsuit alleging sexual assaults at the Women’s Community Corrections Center has “established the danger WCCC inmates face of being sexually assaulted in the unmonitored control stations, which since the Stormy Smith rape in the control station nothing has been done to implement basic safeguards of video monitoring,” according to the filing.

More specifically, the request for an injunction describes nearly two dozen incidents in which eight inmates performed sex acts or had sex with four corrections officers in WCCC control stations or in the bathrooms connected to the stations. Those incidents took place in 2015, according to the filing.

The request for an injunction argues that a court order to impose safeguards including cameras to monitor the control stations is necessary to prevent the ongoing sexual abuse of inmates by corrections officers in the control stations, which the filing described as “a preferred place” for staff to have sex with inmates.

According to the request for an injunction, one of the biggest “mysteries” in the case is “why on earth Warden (Eric) Tanaka and the State won’t simply just install inexpensive cameras in the control rooms to stop this from happening. It’s a stunning example of bureaucratic arrogance and reckless indifference at best,” according to the Oct. 25 filing.

Toni Schwartz, a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, has said the main problem with failed camera equipment at WCCC and other facilities is that the systems are old, but in some cases the cameras have been damaged by inmates.

Schwartz said in September the department is trying to use federal funds to “replace outdated cameras that are not functioning, repair those that can be repaired, and install additional cameras in blind spot areas.”

In the meantime, “staff have been instructed to increase vigilance and to conduct more frequent physical security checks of affected areas,” she said in a written statement.

Women'S Community Correctional Center.
A lawsuit filed in connection with sexual assaults at the Women’s Community Correctional Center alleges the assaults of inmates by staff have long been ignored. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The civil lawsuit in connection with the alleged sexual assaults at WCCC was first filed in 2017, but ended in a mistrial in 2020. Jury selection began again in October for a new trial that is scheduled for this week.

The lawsuit by the inmates alleges the prison has a “culture” that “fosters and cultivates” relationships between corrections officers and prisoners, and there has been an “ongoing pattern and practice of ignoring sexual abuse of inmates by both male and female guards and employees at WCCC (that) dates back at least 25 years.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Leinette Reyes, Dana Baba, Tiana Soto, Monica Alves Peralto and Shawna Tallman. The lawsuit alleges the fear and anxiety caused by the sexual assaults also prompted inmate Dawnielle Pawnlasigui to  commit suicide, and her estate is pursuing the case on behalf of her heirs.

The defendants in the lawsuit are former WCCC staffers Taofi Magalei Jr., Brent Baumann and Gauta Va’a. Also named in the suit is former WCCC Warden Eric Tanaka.

Any sexual contact between an inmate and staff is a felony under Hawaii law because prisoners cannot legally give consent. The lawsuit alleges the state and the prison management failed to take a variety of steps to ensure the safety of the women inmates.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the case Monday because the litigation is ongoing.

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