Hawaii Agrees to End Prolonged Incarceration and Strip Searches in Response to ACLU Lawsuit

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
February 10, 2005 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Hawaii
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Contact: media@aclu.org

HONOLULU-The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii announced today that the state has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a class action federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of hundreds of innocent individuals who were wrongly detained by the State Department of Public Safety (PSD) after being ordered released by the courts and, in some cases, subjected to unconstitutional strip and body cavity searches without legal justification.

“This important victory will ensure that Hawaii inmates, who have earned their release through acquittal, will have their freedom immediately restored regardless of administrative red tape,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Mark Davis. “Our system of justice has become more efficient and fair as a result of the safeguards imposed by this settlement.”

The case addressed serious federal constitutional violations arising from the illegal detention and mistreatment of individuals held beyond their release dates between December 1999 and December 2002.

“I was innocent from the start and it’s hard to put into words the feeling of having your freedom stripped away,” said Gregory Tapaoan, who was wrongfully detained and subjected to multiple strip-searches after he was acquitted. “I was so happy to win my case, but then had to face being subjected to confinement, and in front of my family no less.”

The settlement, preliminarily approved on February 8 by U.S. District Court Magistrate Leslie Kobayashi, requires the Department of Public Safety to implement new policies to provide for the timely release of acquitted individuals and not force them to endure humiliating strip and body cavity searches. The settlement provides compensation to individuals whose rights were violated during the period covered by the class action lawsuit, and including legal and administrative fees.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2001 on behalf of nine individuals who were, after being acquitted, handcuffed, shackled and placed in court holding cells for hours by officials of the Sheriff Division of the PSD. The ACLU charged that the individuals were then chained with other prisoners, transported back to Oahu Community Correctional Center, and forced to submit to invasive bodily strip searches. Individuals were confined to prison cells for hours, sometimes days and, in some instances, for weeks. According to the ACLU lawsuit, they were subjected to unreasonable conditions of confinement during their detainment, including being denied food, denied permission to make phone calls, forced to wear prison jumpsuits and harassed and threatened by prison guards.

The district court’s preliminary approval of the class action opens the way for the claims administrator to provide notice to class members and eventually resolve hundreds of potential claims. The process is expected to take several months.

A major part of the lawsuit was previously addressed in 2002 when the state circuit court issued an order to public defenders, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys that all acquitted defendants were to be immediately released from court.

In addition to Davis, the legal team included Stanley Levin and Mike Livingston from the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston Grande and former ACLU legal director Brent White and interim legal director Susan Dorsey.

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