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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 21, 2001

Inmate died of overdose in Arizona, tests show

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Arizona medical officials have confirmed that an accidental methamphetamine overdose caused the death of a prison inmate from Hawai'i in April, and that a second Hawai'i prisoner died that month from natural causes.

Iulai Amani, 23, died on April 16 after swallowing several drug-filled balloons at the Florence Correctional Center, where more than 500 inmates from Hawai'i are held, according to an autopsy report released by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner.

Amani was poisoned when one or more of the balloons ruptured, investigators said.

The second inmate, 41-year-old John Kia, died of natural causes on April 25. He also suffered a head laceration, possibly during a fall from his bunk, according to his autopsy report.

Kia was convicted in 1999 of kidnapping and sexual assault. Amani was convicted of manslaughter in 1997.

Prison officials believe Amani was a member of a gang that controlled drug smuggling and other illicit activity at the prison until a crackdown in late April. The name of the gang was tattooed on Amani's arm, according to the report.

His mother, Darnell Amani, said that she never knew he was in a gang and he did not have the tattoo before he was incarcerated.

"I don't really know what to think about what happened, but I think about my son every day," she said.

Hawai'i officials who inspected the prison in April reported that it was largely controlled by the gang whose members assaulted and extorted other inmates and poorly trained guards. One guard admitted smuggling drugs into the prison to buy protection from the gang, which also controlled sexual access to females detained in an adjacent wing by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, officials found.

More than 50 members of the gang were transferred after the crackdown to a New Mexico prison owned by the same firm, Corrections Corporation of America. The warden of the Arizona facility has since been replaced.

You can reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.