Lawsuit Filed Over Death of Second Arizona Inmate

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Here is how attorneys representing Clifford Medina, 23, describe how he was killed by cellmate Mahinauli Silva, 22, while incarcerated by the state of Hawaii in a private Arizona prison:

On the morning of June 8, 2010, sometime after breakfast, Silva and Medina engaged in a heated argument, which developed into a physical altercation. As the fight escalated, Silva put Medina in a "guillotine choke hold," a choke in which the assailant's arms are used to encircle the opponent's neck in a fashion similar to a guillotine. Silva went to the ground and was on his back with Medina's back resting on his chest, legs wrapped tightly around Medina so that he could not get out of the choke. After holding him in the choke hold for approximately 10 minutes, Silva released Medina.

That's according to a court filing detailing a lawsuit by Medina's family against the state of Hawaii, its Department of Public Safety and the Corrections Corporation of America, the private mainland prison company that Hawaii pays to house some 1,800 Hawaii inmates in Arizona.

Medina was killed at the same CCA prison in Sagauro where that same year another Hawaii inmate, Bronson Nunuha, died after being "punched, kicked, stomped on, and stabbed more than 140 times" by two prison gang members.

Medina's family is represented by the ACLU of Hawaii, Rosen, Bien & Galvan of San Francisco and Vermont-based Human Rights Defense Center.

It's the same group that filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of Nunuha's family in February. That case is pending.

As Sanford Rosen put it at Tuesday press conference on the State Circuit Court lawn on Punchbowl Street, "CCA's interests are driven by profit more than running its prisons in a way that fulfills its responsibilities to protect those it imprisons from unnecessary harm. The state of Hawaii abdicated its responsibilities too and failed to assure that appropriate measures of oversight are exercised for the protection of Hawaii residents and prisoners."

The plaintiffs are seeking damages that at a minimum, said Rosen, would be in the seven figures.

But something else is sought too.

"For us as a family, we want justice for Clifford, and for the inmates to be home in Hawaii, and that it doesn't happen again," said Beverly Lokelani Medeiros, Medina's aunt and hanai mother. Standing next to her was Medina's sister, Roseanna Medeiros, who held a small black box holding her brother's ashes.

Toni Schwartz, public information officer for the Department of Public Safety, issued this statement in response to the lawsuit:

The Attorney General's office is looking over the filing and will take the appropriate course of action. We have been advised not to speak about pending litigation until the Deputy Attorney General assigned to the case has had some time to look it over.

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