Three Correctional Officers Convicted Following Jury Trial

On July 8, following a 3 week trial, a federal jury convicted three former state-level correctional officers in Hawaii of felony civil rights violations for the physical assault of an inmate under their custody, as well as of charges relate to the subsequent coverup. After the trial, the federal judge immediately ordered the U.S. Marshalls to take the men into custody pending their sentencing hearings. I have the surveillance footage, and it’s pretty bad. I also obtained some of the criminal case documents, including the indictment, jury instructions and jury verdict form, which you can view and download below.

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 attacked the inmate in the head and body while he was lying face-down on the ground. The inmate suffered a broken nose, jaw and eye socket. After the incident, there was a cover up. The officers 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. A fourth officer was convicted prior to trial and testified against the other three.

The indictment alleged two counts for Deprivation of Rights under Color of law, one count of Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice, and three counts of Obstruction by False Report. the indictment also alleged that one of the men, Defendant Taum, obtained a copy of the surveillance video of the assault on the inmate, and met with the other involved officers at the home of one of the officers, and together devised a false cover story that would purport to explain and justify their assault of the inmate. The officers apparently received internal affairs questionnaires, and worked together to apply their false cover story to the questionnaire’s specific questions. 

In the use of force report, the officers wrote that they used “brachial stuns and brachial plexus strikes to gain compliance so the inmate could be restrained.” They further wrote that, “reactive use of force was used to gain control and compliance.” However, the indictment alleges that those reports were false because in reality, the officers did not perform “brachial stuns and brachial plexus tie in strikes,” which are techniques taught in their training, but rather kicked and kneed the inmate, punched him in the face, and used hammer-fist strikes to the back of his head, doing so not to “gain control/compliance” as the inmate had already been subdued. 

The litigation paperwork filed in the case indicates that there were actually allegations of this inmate being physically assaulted by the officers at two separate times and in two different locations at this jail, hence the two separate counts for Deprivations of Rights, i.e., excessive force. The video only shows the first assault. The second one apparently happening in the holding cell afterwards. Just the fact that they weren’t done with the guy after what we saw in the video . . . is insane. 

On the excessive force counts, the jury was instructed that the government had to prove that the defendant correctional officers deprived the inmate of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. That means that the inmate was a convicted prisoner. The constitutional right to be free from excessive force falls under different amendments, depending on the logistical status of the victim. For an arrestee, or someone just on the street, it’s the Fourth Amendment. For a pretrial detainee, the courts use the Fourteenth Amendment, which is a slightly more lenient standard for the government. Lastly, for convicted prisoners, they’re stuck with the Eighth Amendment, which is cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s how cruel and unusual punishment was defined for the jury: Under the Eighth Amendment, a convicted prisoner has the right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishments.” To establish a defendant deprived the prisoner of his Eighth Amendment right, the government must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt.

1. a defendant used excessive and unnecessary force under all of the circumstances;

2. a defendant acted maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing harm, and not in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline; and

3. the act or acts of a defendant caused harm to the prisoner.

The Court asked the jurors to consider the following:

1. the extent of the injury suffered;

2. the need to use force;

3. the relationship between the need to use force and the amount of force used;

4. any threat reasonably perceived by a defendant; and

5. any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response, such as, if feasible, providing a prior warning or giving an order to comply. 

The Court also instructed the jury that, “Correctional officers have a duty to intercede when another correctional officer violates the constitutional rights of a prisoner. A correctional officer who observed another correctional officer using cruel and unusual punishment, had a reasonable opportunity to intervene, and chose not to do so would be responsible for depriving the prisoner of his Eighth Amendment constitutional rights. 

This is known as the duty to intervene, or bystander liability, in civil cases. This also applies to police officers in regular Fourth Amendment excessive force cases. 

A sentencing date has not been set. The guards each could face up to 20 years in prison for filing a false report alone, as well as 10 years in prison for the deprivation of rights conviction and five years for the conspiracy conviction.

ETA: here are the documents discussed in the video:

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