ACLU Hails Victory as Hawaii Court Orders Immediate Release of Innocent People Held in Jail

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
January 4, 2002 12:00 am

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HONOLULU–Hundreds of people who were wrongfully detained in local jails after proving their innocence have been freed as the result of a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i, the group announced today.

“We are pleased that the court has recognized that confining acquitted individuals is illegal and has ordered an end to this unconstitutional practice,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii.

Under the terms of an order issued yesterday by Judge Gail C. Nakatani of the State Circuit Court yesterday, all acquitted defendants currently detained in the Oahu Community Correction Center (OCCC) will now be allowed to take their own transportation home and pick up their belongings from the holding facility at their convenience. The order was addressed to the office of the public defender, prosecuting attorney and all criminal defense attorneys.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed last December on behalf of hundreds of innocent individuals detained by the government, sought to stop the state’s practice of confining and strip-searching acquitted individuals and secure financial compensation for those who have already been subject to the unconstitutional practice. The court’s ruling today did not address the matter of compensation.

According to the complaint, ACLU clients Gregory Tapaoan, Michael Mars, Pedro Paula Ribeiro and hundreds of other individuals who were, after being acquitted, handcuffed, shackled and placed in court holding cells for hours by officials of the Sheriff Division of the Department of Public Safety.

Acquitted persons were chained with other prisoners, transported back to OCCC, forced to submit to invasive bodily strip searches, and confined to prison cells for hours and sometimes days. While being detained, they were subjected to unreasonable conditions of confinement, including being denied food, denied permission to make phone calls, forced to wear jail clothing, and harassed and threatened by prison guards.

The ACLU said it learned that this practice has been going on for at least ten years, despite the fact that it is a clear violation of the rights of innocent individuals.

A similar lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles settled last August for a record $27 million dollars.

The ACLU is being assisted in the Hawai’i lawsuit by the law firm of Davis, Levin, Livingston, Grande.

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