Three Former Hawaii Correctional Officers Convicted of Civil Rights Violations for Assaulting an Inmate and Attempting to Cover it Up
On July 8, after a three-week trial, a federal jury convicted three former correctional officers at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center — Jason Tagaloa, 31, Craig Pinkney, 38, and Jonathan Taum, 50 — for assaulting an inmate in violation of his civil rights and for obstructing justice in attempting to cover up the violation.
A fourth officer, Jordan DeMattos, previously pleaded guilty for his role in the assault and cover up, and testified for the government at trial. After the jury’s verdict, Judge Leslie Kobayashi ordered the U.S. Marshals to take the defendants into custody pending their sentencing hearings.
The evidence at trial established that the defendants assaulted the inmate in the prison’s recreation yard. Over the course of two minutes, the defendants punched and kicked the inmate in the head and body while he was lying face-down in a pool of his own blood. The inmate suffered a broken nose, jaw and eye socket.
After the beating, the defendants wrote false reports in which they omitted almost all of the force they had used. When the prison opened an investigation, the defendants met to get their stories straight and brainstorm false excuses they would give for having used force. Ultimately, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety fired all four officers.
“These defendants abused the trust given to them as law enforcement officers when they violently assaulted an inmate and lied to cover it up,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will prosecute corrections officials who violently assault inmates inside our jails and prisons, and abuse their official positions to cover-up their crimes. We are committed to using our civil rights laws to ensure that the rights of all individuals, including those in custody, are fully protected.”
“This prosecution and verdict affirm our office’s commitment to ensuring every person’s civil rights are protected under the law,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors for the District of Hawaii. “We will continue to enforce those rights the Constitution and other federal laws provide.”
“The FBI will always investigate when a person’s civil rights are violated,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill of the FBI Honolulu Field Office. “As correctional officers, they were held to upholding the standards of law enforcement officers within the state prisons and they did not do so in this case. The FBI will vigorously pursue justice for those whose civil rights were violated.”
The maximum penalties for the charged crimes are 10 years of imprisonment for the deprivation-of-rights offense, 20 years of imprisonment for the false report offenses and five years of imprisonment for the conspiracy offense.
The FBI conducted the investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan of the District of Hawaii, and Special Litigation Counsel Christopher J. Perras and Trial Attorney Thomas Johnson of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.