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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 30, 2010

Prison documents burned at closing

By John Burnett
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

A state senator says the Department of Public Safety broke state and county laws and administrative rules during last year's closure of Kulani Correctional Facility.

Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Public Safety & Military Affairs Committee, said a hearing Wednesday at the state Capitol "confirmed what we suspected."

A number of former Kulani officials verified that documents were burned in an open pit in October and November, a violation of the county's open burning ban in effect since 2008. It's also possible that burning records as well as pornographic VHS videotapes once used in Kulani's sex offender treatment program violated state clean air laws and statutes concerning document disposal.

"The handling of the records disposal was poorly done with little leadership and accountability," said Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu). "It seems as if there was a lot of things going on without properly thinking them out, for example, a permit to burn. There was no permit to burn. And this was during ... the burn ban on the Big Island. And yet, these guys went on ahead. So they didn't do their due diligence."

Peter McDonald, former Kulani warden who is now acting warden at Hawai'i Community Correctional Facility, testified his then-second-in-command, Capt. Clement Gusman, took charge of the closure at the direction of DPS Deputy Director Tommy Johnson.

McDonald said when the decision was made to burn the materials, he went to the Kea'au Fire Station to inform them it was happening "because they take an active interest in smoke going up over Kulani." He said he talked to lower-ranked firefighters about the burning and did not consult higher-ranking officials, or request permission.

McDonald said he was not aware there was a burning ban in effect on the island. He also said no records were kept of what was burned.

Gusman, who's now a watch captain at O'ahu Community Correctional Center, was asked who ordered the burning. "I honestly don't know who made that determination," he said.

"It came down that we needed to do something with the records ... and the first course of action was, preferred to shred, but we determined that shredding was cost-prohibitive," Gusman said.

State archivist Susan Shaner testified that under state law, the Department of Accounting and General Service is supposed to be notified when documents are destroyed.

"They're supposed to report to us when they do that on a specific form. We didn't get any report on any form," she said.