Death of Hawaii Prisoner Raises Concerns About Arizona Facility

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

What could the mother of a 26-year-old son possibly have to say about the beating and multiple-stabbing death of her son in his own Arizona prison cell — a killing in which his assailants carved the name of their gang into his chest?

The best that Davina Waialae could muster, between many tears, was that Bronson Nunuha's short life could serve as an example so that others will not meet a similar fate.

"I am here so other inmates, other members of my family, will not have to go what we are going through," Waialae told reporters Wednesday outside 1st Circuit Court. "My family is still devastated with what is happening. ... My grandson has to grow up without a dad."

Standing at Waialae's side were attorneys for the ACLU of Hawaii and a San Francisco law firm that, along with the Vermont-based nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center, have filed a civil suit over Nunuha's death.

Nunuha was killed in 2010 by other prisoners at a Corrections Corporation of America private prison. Trial for those charged is still pending. CCA and the state of Hawaii, which contracts with CCA to house nearly 1,800 local prisoners in Arizona facilities, are named in the lawsuit.

"No 5-year-old should have to bury their father," said attorney Kenneth M. Walczak. "Bronson's death could have been prevented."

Walczak says the lawsuit explains how both CCA and the state could have prevented the death — CCA by following proper public safety procedures, the state by bringing Nunuha back to Hawaii to serve the last year of his sentence, as state law requires.

Instead, Nunuha was still serving the last nine months of a five-year sentence for burglary and property damage when he was killed. He was housed "next to rapists, killers and violent memebrs of a prison gang."

The complaint seeks a "measure of justice," said Walczak — or, as the lawsuit puts it, "compensatory, general, and special damages against each Defendant, jointly and severally, in the amount proven at trial."

Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, director of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, which oversees state prisons, released a statement: "We cannot comment on the lawsuit until we have had time to look it over with the Deputy Attorney General assigned to it. We are saddened by the tragic situation that happened at Saguaro and we are working on ways to improve the prison system."

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