HONOLULU — The family of a Hawaii inmate stabbed to death at a private prison in Arizona sued the state of Hawaii and prison operator Corrections Corporation of America on Wednesday.
The legal action came after two gang members attacked Bronson Nunuha in his cell on Feb. 18, 2010, when a prison employee left the door open at Saguaro Correctional Center, according to the suit filed in Circuit Court.
Nunuha was stabbed more than 140 times with two different weapons. The attackers also carved the name of their gang into his chest.
“It’s still hard for my family,” Davina Waialae, Nunuha’s mother, said at a press conference on the lawsuit. “My grandson has to grow up without a dad.”
Nunuha, 26, was serving a five-year sentence for burglary and property damage. He was nine months away from finishing his sentence when he was killed.
“The officials who failed to prevent that death, and who violated the safety rules designed to protect him, must be held accountable,” said Kenneth Walczak, an attorney representing the family.
The lawsuit alleges Hawaii agreed to and tolerated insufficient staffing levels at the site where Nunuha was confined. The suit said that allowed dangerous conditions to persist.
Further, it alleges the state acted negligently, recklessly and with deliberate indifference to Nunuha’s safety. It says Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tenn., put profits ahead of prisoner safety.
The company is accused of failing to properly staff Nunuha’s unit, separate members of rival gangs, and separate gang members from non-gang members. It says the company ignored signs Nunuha was in danger.
The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages.
State Department of Public Safety Director Jodie Maesaka-Hirata said the department can’t comment on the lawsuit until officials are able to review it with the attorney general’s office.
“We are saddened by the tragic situation that happened at Saguaro and we are working on ways to improve the prison system,” she said in a statement.
Steven Owen, a Corrections Corporation of America spokesman, said the company can’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but will respond through the legal process at the appropriate time.
“The Saguaro Correctional Center is staffed by well-trained, dedicated professionals who operate at the highest standards of the industry,” he said in an e-mail. “At Saguaro, and all CCA facilities, we take the protection and treatment of the inmates in our care very seriously.”
Hawaii houses about 1,800 inmates — one-third of the state’s total — at the company’s prisons on the mainland because it doesn’t have enough space to hold them in the islands.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he wants to bring Hawaii’s inmates on the mainland home. Still, the state awarded a three-year, $136.5 million contract to the Corrections Corporation of America so it could continue keeping the inmates in Arizona.
Saguaro Correctional Center is in Elroy, Ariz.
Nunuha was born in Honolulu and raised in Waianae. His son, now 7, lives on Maui.