Accused of brutally beating an inmate and conspiring with three other officers to cover up the attack, a former correctional officer at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center recently pleaded guilty to assault, false report, and conspiracy charges. The other three officers are scheduled to begin trial in March.
On June 15, 2015, Sgt. Jonathan Taum along with officers Jordan DeMattos, Craig Pinkney, and Jason Tagaloa pinned inmate Chawn Kaili to the ground at the Punahele Street jail’s recreation yard in Hilo, Hawaii. The correctional officers repeatedly punched and kicked Kaili in the face, neck, and back, while he remained pinned facedown to the ground.
According to Kaili’s subsequent lawsuit, his “jail-issued clothing was so saturated with his blood it was discarded by Department of Public Safety personnel.” As a direct result of the assault, the inmate suffered a broken jaw, nose, and eye socket.
Tagaloa allegedly assaulted Kaili again in a holding cell after the initial beating.
Since part of the assault was recorded on surveillance footage, DeMattos conspired with the other three officers to devise a false cover story to explain and justify their use of excessive force, document that false cover story in official reports, and repeat that false cover story during the ensuing investigation and disciplinary proceedings arising out of the incident.
According to DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz, the last day of employment for DeMattos, Pinkney, Tagaloa, and Taum was on December 23, 2016. She did not disclose whether they quit or were fired.
In July, Pinkney, Tagaloa, and Taum were charged in a six-count indictment, including two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and three counts of obstruction by false report. In the indictment, DeMattos is referred to as “Officer A.”
On Thursday, DeMattos pleaded guilty to assaulting an inmate, writing a false report, and conspiring with his fellow officers to cover up the attack. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of up to 10 years of imprisonment for the assault offense, 20 years of imprisonment for the false report offense, and five years of imprisonment for the conspiracy offense.
“This correctional officer’s actions go against every duty he swore to carry out when he took his badge,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division in a recent press release. “Civil rights violations are particularly egregious when they are carried out by someone whose duty is to protect. The Justice Department works hard to ensure that these perpetrators see justice for their crimes.”
“Together, a uniform, title, and authority to secure a state facility are not a license to victimize,” stated U.S. Attorney Kenji Price for the District of Hawaii. “My office is committed to vindicating the rights of all citizens by enforcing the law — which includes holding those charged with safeguarding correctional facilities accountable for assaulting the inmates housed within them.”
“Correctional officers are given great power to enforce rules, keep order, and protect the inmates within their facilities. When Jordan DeMattos exploited these powers and violated the civil rights of an inmate he was charged to protect, he undermined the respect and reputation of all the officers who perform their duties lawfully and with dignity,” asserted Special Agent in Charge Eli Miranda. “The FBI takes allegations of civil rights violations seriously and will always bring to justice those who abuse their power and violate the constitution.”
Pinkney, Tagaloa, and Taum have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to begin trial on March 15, 2021.