Bronson Nunuha

BY JIM DOOLEY – The family of a Hawaii prison inmate who was savagely attacked and murdered in his Arizona prison cell in 2010 have filed suit against the state and private prison operator Corrections Corp. of America.

Bronson Nunuha

The suit, filed just days before the second anniversary of Bronson Nunuha’s death, alleges that CCA understaffed and inadequately trained workers at the Saguaro Correctional Center.

The deficiencies show CCA’s “indifference” to inmate safety and display the company’s “unchecked hunger for profits,” said the suit, filed by the ACLU of Hawaii and a Mainland law firm.

CCA houses some 1,800 Hawaii prison inmates in its Arizona prisons under a  $10 million per-year contract with the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

CCA public affairs director Steve Owen said the company “cannot comment on the specifics of this lawsuit” but added that Saguaro “is staffed by well-trained, dedicated professionals who operate at the highest standards of the industry.”

Davina Waialae, mother of slain inmate, with her lawyers

The complaint, filed in state Circuit Court, also accuses the Public Safety Department and numerous state officials and CCA employees of liability in Nunuha’s death.

Public Safety Department director Jodi Maesaka-Hirata said, “We cannot comment on the lawsuit until we have had time to look it over with the Deputy Attorney General assigned to it.  We are saddened by the tragic situation that happened at Saguaro and we are working on ways to improve the prison system.”

Nunuha, 26, was serving time for burglary and criminal property damage and had previously been threatened and attacked by prison gang members in Arizona, the suit alleged.

The morning of February 18, 2010, “two prisoners punched, kicked and stomped on Bronson.They stabbed him more than 140 times with two different weapons and carved the name of their gang into his chest,” the lawsuit charged.

One of the inmates, Miti Maugaotega Jr., has a long history of violence both in and out of prison.

Miti Maugaotea Jr.

Maugaotega had assaulted Nunuha earlier at Saguaro and was implicated in a 2005 brutal assault of another Hawaii inmate at a CCA facility in Mississippi, according to the suit.

“Maugaotega was a ‘shot caller’ in a dominant, violent prison gang at SCF,” said the suit.

“A ‘shot caller’ is a high-ranking gang member who directs the activities of other gang members, and authorizes the use of violence,” said the suit.

Nunuha was held in a special housing area of Sauguaro that improperly mixed violent and non-violent inmates, the suit alleged.

The fatal attack occurred during “morning day room” hours when prison cells were unlocked, the complaint alleged.

While the sole CCA employee on duty at the time was “distracted by a group of prisoners,” the suit

Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy AZ (Hawaii Auditor Photo)

alleged, Nunuha was fatally assaulted in his cell.

“As he lay dying, other prisoners mopped up the bloody footprints leading away from his cell” and the killers showered, changed clothes, and re-mingled with the other prisoners,” said the suit.

Another Hawaii inmate, Clifford Medina, was murdered inside Saguaro several months after Nunuha’s death.

Nunuha’s mother, Davina Waialae, said at a news conference today that her son had less than a year left on his sentence and was looking forward to his release.

“He wanted to do the best that he could, get a job, get back into the community and try to make things right with his child.”

Nunuha’s seven-year-old son lives with his mother on Maui.

Waialae and the lawyers representing her said Nunuha should have been transferred back to Hawaii months before he was killed because he had less than year remaining on his sentence.

Governor Neil Abercrombie has been critical of the state’s use of private prison facilities on the Mainland, saying one of the top priorities of his administration is to bring home as many of the 6,000 1,800 Mainland inmates as possible.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com