HONOLULU (CN) – Parents claim in court that their 23-year-old developmentally disabled son was murdered in an Arizona prison run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company.
The Estate of Clifford Medina sued CCA and nine of its officials, and Hawaii and a slew of its corrections and public safety divisions and officials, in Hawaii’s First Circuit Court. They say Medina’s death could have been prevented has Hawaii or CCA exercised proper oversight of the CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., to which Hawaii sent Medina.
Plaintiffs include Medina’s mother Molliann Waltjen, sister Roseanna Medeiros, and aunts Beverly Lokelani Medeiros and Kawahinekuuipolani Cliffann Medeiros.
They claim Hawaii and CCA have a “systematic tolerance of gang domination and fatally inadequate classification practices.”
Medina was diagnosed as “moderately mentally retarded” and “developmentally delayed,” his family says. He spent his teen years in foster care, mental institutions and after running away from a group home, got in trouble with theft and burglary charges.
Sentenced to 5 years in prison for a probation violation in 2009, he was jailed in Oahu’s Halawa Correctional Center, then transferred to Saguaro.
Given his lack of social awareness and how easily he was influenced by others, the CCA prison became a “deadly trap,” according to the complaint.
“The CCA prisons in which Hawaii inmates were held were notorious for gang domination and gang warfare,” it states.
“It is well-known to the point of being obvious to corrections professionals that persons with mental impairments are useful to gang leaders for exploitation as pliant recruits.”
Medina developed a disciplinary history at SCC and was placed in administrative segregation with 22-year-old Mahinauli Silva, who had known “anger problems,” was a “reluctant member of the dominant Hawaii prison gang,” and who had written grievances to CCA officials informing them of the “blood out, blood in” policy, the family says.
“Blood out, blood in” means that members are initiated by beating or killing someone, and exiting members are also killed, the family says.
“Silva told CCA officials … that they should move Medina to another cell because he would instigate a fight and beat up Medina if he remained in their shared cell,” the complaint states.
After this threat from the man who eventually did kill him, the family says, defendant Sgt. Alfred Trejo, a CCA senior jailer, “did nothing in response, other than to make a flippant remark about not caring what happened, ‘as long as you two don’t kill each other.'”
Silva choked Medina to death, the family says. They claim that CCA officials did not respond until Silva himself pressed an emergency call button. This came 16 minutes after defendant Assistant Warden Jody Bradley “failed to notice anything amiss with Medina,” though he already had been choked to death, according to the complaint.
Three months ago, the family of another Hawaiian inmate sued CCA, claiming their son, Bronson Nunuha, was stabbed to death, 140 times, in February, at Saguaro.
Hawaii has asked to transfer both cases to Arizona.
“One has to wonder why,” attorney Sanford Jay Rosen said at a Wednesday press conference in Honolulu. Rosen, a senior partner with Rosen, Bien & Glass, said it was likely that Hawaii wanted to limit its in-state press exposure.
Co-counsel Daniel Gluck, with the ACLU, said in a statement: “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 profits ahead of people. The result: two murders and widespread allegations of sexual and other violent assaults within their facilities.”
Medina’s sister brought and held her brother’s cremated remains throughout the Wednesday press conference.
According to the complaint: “Plaintiffs are informed and believe and thereon allege that, as classification supervisor, defendant [Christine] Frappiea was responsible for applying rational standards to classify and re-classify prisoners like Medina. Her failure to properly apply such standards meant that Medina did not receive any protection for his particular vulnerabilities as a person with a developmental disability, and that he was housed with Silva in disregard of CCA’s documented allegations of incompatible gang involvement.”
In an October 2008 audit, Hawaii marked CCA “non-compliant” in three classification-related categories, and none of the defendants followed up on the findings, Medina’s family says in the complaint.
Hawaii awarded CCA a $66 million “no-bid” contract that ran from 1995 to 2011, according to the complaint. At the time of Medina’s death, the Saguaro prison housed more than 1,800 prisoners.
Previous problems at Saguaro forced Hawaii to begin bringing back its outsourced prisoners.
A Hawaii inmate was assaulted at CCA’s Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tennessee in 2005.
Hawaii removed all of its female inmates from CCA’s Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky in 2009, after six CCA employees were charged with rape and sexual misconduct, Medina’s attorneys said in their press statement.
In 2011, Five Hawaii prisoners sought a protective injunction from CCA retaliation after a July 2010 prison fight at SCC, as Courthouse News reported at the time.
Eighteen Hawaiian inmates sued CCA in December 2010, claiming that guards stripped, beat, kicked and threatened to kill them, banged their heads on tables while they were handcuffed, and that “the warden himself” threatened their families. Those inmates claim that CCA “deliberately destroyed and failed to preserve evidence of their wrongdoing, including videotapes,” and “deliberately falsified reports.”
Another Hawaiian inmate sued in 2011, alleging that CCA guard Richard Ketland forced him to give Ketland a blow job in his cell in October 2009. The guard was charged with felony unlawful sexual contact, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to probation, Courthouse News reported at the time.
And this month, four civilian women claimed in a lawsuit that Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety and its mainland coordinators unconstitutionally prevented the women from marrying their incarcerated fiancés at Saguaro.
CCA manages 75,000 inmates – men, women and children – in more than 60 prisons in 19 states.
Medina’s family seeks damages for wrongful death, gross negligence, cruel and unusual punishment, deliberate indifference, failure to supervise, Americans With Disabilities Act violations and civil rights violations.
Co-counsel with Rosen and Gluck is Lance Weber with the Human Rights Defense Center in Brattleboro, Vt.