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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 2, 2006

Prisoner from here allegedly brutalized

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Two captains and a sergeant at a privately run Mississippi prison were fired after they were allegedly videotaped beating an inmate from Hawai'i, according to the Hawai'i Department of Public Safety.

The three were part of a Special Operations Response Team established at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility to quell disturbances and control unruly prisoners.

The trouble began when general-population inmate Harry K. Hoopii, 55, allegedly assaulted two corrections officers at the prison at 6 p.m. Feb. 23, said Shari Kimoto, administrator of Public Safety's branch on the Mainland.

Kimoto said that Hoopii was then escorted to a disciplinary holding cell in another part of the prison at about 7:50 p.m. and that the incident involving the SORT team occurred in his cell later in the evening.

It is regular procedure for the SORT team to use force in responding to a violent inmate, but when the assistant warden and chief of security at the prison reviewed the videotape of what took place in the cell, they "realized that excessive force had been used," Kimoto said.

The three were fired for violating the policies of prison owner Corrections Corporation of America, she said. The other members of the SORT team, including the team member who was operating the hand-held video camera, were suspended, she said.

Kimoto said the inmate was taken to the hospital with injuries that included multiple facial bruises and swelling and a cut lip. He was later returned to the prison, where he was being held in a disciplinary unit, she said.

Kimoto said a corrections officer who was allegedly assaulted by Hoopii earlier in the evening suffered an injured right arm and thumb; the other officer suffered an injured arm and finger.

The prison notified Hawai'i officials the day of the incident, and Public Safety officials were "very satisfied" with the response, Kimoto said. "As far as we're concerned, the matter was handled appropriately and immediately."

Hoopii is serving two life sentences with the possibility of parole. One life sentence was imposed for attempted second-degree murder in the stabbing of a man in Kalihi in 1983. The second life sentence was for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl as she walked home from school later that same year.

Concerns arose last year in connection with the Tallahatchie facility after two inmates were injured in a violent disturbance touched off when 20 cell doors in a prison disciplinary unit suddenly opened at 2:48 a.m. July 17.

In the melee that followed, Hawai'i inmate Ronnie Lonoaea was attacked and severely beaten in his cell by other prisoners, and the prison staff had to use tear gas to regain control of the unit. CCA said the doors opened because a prison sergeant accidentally pushed the wrong button.

The Hawai'i state attorney general's office asked state prison officials to investigate the July 17 incident. Prison officials have said they wanted to look into the possibility of gang involvement and whether prison staff might have cooperated with the inmates in the incident.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.