BY JIM DOOLEY – The family of another Hawaii prison inmate murdered in his
Mainland prison cell has sued the state and private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America.
Clifford Medina, 23, was strangled in 2010 by cellmate Mahinauli Silva in a segregation cell at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.
The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU and a Mainland lawfirm in state court, accused the state Department of Public Safety and CCA of “deliberate indifference” and “gross negligence” in their oversight and operation of the Saguaro facility.
CCA is under contract to house more than 1,000 male Hawaii prison inmates at Saguaro in Eloy, Arizona.
Steve Owen, spokesman for CCA, said the company had not yet seen the lawsuit.
“CCA’s top priority is the safety and security of our facilities, employees and the inmates entrusted to our care. We take all allegations seriously and act swiftly if our standards have not been met,” Owen said in an emailed statement.
Toni Schwartz, public information officer at the Department of Public Safety, said, “We have been advised not to speak about pending litigation until the Deputy Attorney General assigned to the case has had some time to look it over.”
The lawsuit said Medina lived “a short and troubled life.”
Diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded and developmentally disabled, Medina spent his teenage years in foster care and “various institutions for the mentally disabled,” the suit said.
He was easily influenced by others and lacked “social awareness needed to escape from trouble created by poorly chosen companions,” the family’s lawsuit said.
Court and law enforcement records show that Medina committed a series of felony and misdemeanor offenses, including burglary, shoplifting, trespassing and bail jumping, on the Big Island from 2006 to 2008.
While on probation in 2009, Medina was convicted in Honolulu Circuit Court of assaulting a law enforcement officer. His probation was revoked and he was sentenced to a five-year prison term.
In prison, the lawsuit said, Medina “was the victim of systematic failures to protect
prisoners with developmental disabilities.”
Inmates “with mental retardation are vulnerable to being manipulated and victimized by other inmates” and are preyed upon by prison gangs, the suit said.
“CCA records allege that at the time of his death Medina was considered a ‘recruit’ for the dominant gang at SCC,” the suit said.
Medina was housed in a special section of Saguaro that segregated inmates from the general population, sharing a cell with Mahinauli Silva, described in the suit as “a reluctant member of the dominant Hawaii prison gang.”
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 plaintiffs alleged in the suit.
On the morning of June 8, 2010, Silva and Medina argued, then engaged in a physical altercation which ended when Silva killed Medina with a “guillotine choke hold,” the plaintiffs charged.
Four months before Medina’s death, another Hawaii inmate at Saguaro, Bronson
Nunuha, was murdered in another incident of gang violence there.
Nunuha’s family filed their own lawsuit against the state and CCA earlier this year. That suit is pending in federal court.
Two Hawaii inmates, Miti Maugaotega Jr. and Micah Kanahele, were convicted of first-
degree murder in Nunuha’s death and are facing the death penalty in Arizona.
Silva pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of Medina and prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in his case.
Editor’s Note: A photo originally posted with this story that reportedly depicted Clifford Medina was of a different person. The photo was supplied by the ACLU, which now says the photo did not show Medina. The photo has been removed.