4 former Big Island correctional officers get years in prison for beating an inmate
The U.S. Department of Justice announced that four former correctional officers at the Hawaiʻi Community Correctional Center in Hilo have been sentenced for their roles in the assault of an inmate and participation in a multi-year conspiracy to cover up the beating.
Jordan DeMattos, 30, the youngest of the four officers involved, previously accepted responsibility for his crimes by pleading guilty, and testified against his co-defendants at a trial last summer. He was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison.
During a joint trial, DeMattos’s co-defendants were found guilty by a federal jury of violating the rights of an inmate by assaulting him and lying to cover up the incident afterwards.
The co-defendants have already been sentenced. Jonathan Taum, 50, the officer who supervised the beating and orchestrated the conspiracy to cover it up, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Jason Tagaloa, 31, the officer who delivered the most vicious punches and kicks to the victim’s head, was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Craig Pinkney, 39, who struck the victim and held him down as Tagaloa punched and kicked him, was sentenced to five years in prison.
“Physical abuse and corruption by officials working inside jails and prisons is unacceptable, no matter where it occurs,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will vigorously prosecute abusive officers to ensure that the civil rights of all people, including those in custody, are protected.”
According to court documents and evidence introduced at trial, on June 15, 2015, Sgt. Taum supervised Tagaloa, Pinkney and DeMattos while they transported an inmate across the facility.
The inmate became frightened in the course of the transfer, and Taum’s fellow officers took the non-violent inmate to the ground in the prisonʻs recreation yard.
Over the course of two minutes, the defendants punched and kicked the inmate in the head and body while he was lying face-down in a pool of his own blood. The inmate suffered a broken nose, jaw and eye socket.
After the beating, the defendants 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.
Taum led the officers in a cover-up conspiracy that also included submitting false statements to internal affairs and providing false testimony to disciplinary board members.
“This vicious assault on an incarcerated person justifies both the convictions and sentences,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors for the District of Hawaiʻi. “As illustrated by this prosecution, we are committed to enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws.”
Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill of the FBI Honolulu Field Office said: “These correctional officers were in a position of public trust and violated that trust not only by acts of violence against an inmate but also by attempting to cover it up.”
The FBI Honolulu Field Office investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan for the District of Hawaii and Special Litigation Counsel Christopher Perras and Trial Attorney Thomas Johnson of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.