Feds indict 3 former HCCC guards in beating of former inmate

A federal grand jury indicted three former guards at Hawaii Community Correctional Center for allegedly assaulting an inmate housed at the Hilo jail and attempting to cover up their misconduct.

Jason Tagaloa, 29; Craig Pinkney, 36; and Jonathan Taum, 48, are scheduled for arraignment and plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield at 9:30 a.m. today in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. Those hearings will be conducted by phone because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The three are charged in the six-count indictment with two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and three counts of obstruction by false report.

Maximum penalties are 20 years imprisonment for each of the false report offenses, 10 years imprisonment for each of the deprivation-of-rights offenses and five years imprisonment for the conspiracy offense.

“Those committed to the custody of our state and federal detention facilities do not jettison their constitutional rights when they pass through the doors to those facilities,” said Kenji M. Price, Hawaii’s U.S. District Attorney, in a statement. “They are entitled to constitutional safeguards, such as the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment when in custody.”

According to the indictment, which was returned June 10 and unsealed Tuesday, Taum, a sergeant, and Pinkney and Tagaloa, both adult corrections officers — along with a fourth correctional officer designated as “Officer A” in the indictment, physically assaulted an inmate in the Punahele Street jail’s recreation yard on June 15, 2015, then Tagaloa assaulted the same inmate in a holding cell.

Both assaults are alleged to have resulted in bodily injury.

The victim was identified in the indictment as “Inmate 1,” but a lawsuit was filed in Hilo Circuit Court in 2017, with Tagaloa, Taum and Pinkney as defendants. The plaintiff is Chawn Kaili, then an inmate at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., alleging essentially the same set of facts on the same date.

Kaili, whose lawsuit also included former guard Joshua Demattos, ACO watch commander Jon Waikiki and retired HCCC warden Peter MacDonald, has since been paroled.

He alleged in his suit that Pinkney, who was identified as “Gregory Pinkney” in the suit, Tagaloa and Demattos, beat him with their fists and kicked him to his mouth, jaw, face, head neck and back. Kaili claimed he suffered a broken jaw, facial scarring and other injuries. Kaili’s suit also alleged his “jail-issued clothing was so saturated with his blood it was discarded by Department of Public Safety personnel.”

Kaili also claimed in his suit he thought at least part of the beating was captured on video surveillance.

The civil lawsuit was dismissed Feb. 28, but a motion by Kaili to set aside that dismissal was granted April 15, according to the state Judiciary website.

According to the indictment, the three officers and Officer A “watched video of the assault and devised and agreed upon ways to explain and justify their use of excessive force against Inmate 1.” The indictment also alleges they “documented that false cover story in official reports and repeated the story when questioned during investigations or disciplinary proceedings arising out of the assault.”

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DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz told the Tribune-Herald in June 2017 that Taum, Pinkney, Tagaloa and Demattos were “no longer employed with the Department of Public Safety” and the last day of employment for all four was Dec. 23, 2016. She didn’t disclose whether they quit or were fired. Schwartz said, as of that date, Waikiki — who is not mentioned in the indictment — was still employed by DPS and assigned to HCCC.

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

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