Second Halawa guard arrested in meth smuggling

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Jan 27 2014 06:40:43 PM HST
Updated On: Jan 27 2014 07:49:49 PM HST

The recent arrest of a second prison guard accused of smuggling ice into the Halawa Correctional Facility spurs policy changes.

HONOLULU -

Department of Public Safety Director Ted Sakai has expanded the random drug testing of inmates after a second adult corrections officer at the Halawa Correctional Facility was arrested Sunday for allegedly smuggling crystal methamphetamine into the prison.

Click here to watch Andrew Pereira's story.

Mark Damas, 45, was taken into custody by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after agents found five grams of "ice" inside his vehicle last Nov. 1. Investigators believe Damas was bringing narcotics into the prison from Sept. 4 of last year through Nov. 2.     

"We're supposed to be drug-free, we don't pretend we're not, but we're going to do everything we can to keep our prisons drug-fee," Sakai told reporters during a news conference.

On Monday, Damas was released on a $50,000 signature bond following a hearing before federal magistrate Barry Kurren.

Damas' arrest on drug and conspiracy charges follows the arrest of another Halawa prison guard exactly two weeks earlier. James "Kimo" Sanders, 31, was arrested Jan. 12 for allegedly distributing methamphetamine and conspiring to distribute and possess the drug while also accepting bribes. The FBI says the two cases are not related, and both guards were operating independent of one another.

Sakai says expanding the random drug testing of inmates will cost his department additional funds, but he says it's a necessary step.

"I said, 'This is something we got to do,' so we're doing more random drug testing and for cause drug testing of the inmates," said Sakai. Any inmate who tests positive for drugs could be reclassified, have their parole date changed or face prosecution if narcotics can be directly linked to them.    

Sakai said visitors and corrections officers are screened before entering a prison, but that he couldn't be 100 percent sure all procedures are being followed. He said there will be a renewed focus on pat downs and other measures in light of the recent arrests of two ACOs.   

"We're looking really hard at the tightening of security with the visitors," said Sakai. "We also will need to work with the union in terms of different security procedures as it regards the searches of staff coming in."

 

The current contract with the state's nearly 1,300 adult corrections officers (UPW Unit 10) began in July of last year and runs through June 30, 2017. According to DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz, the starting salary for an ACO recruit is $3,602 per month. Any new screening procedure for prison guards would have to be negotiated with the union, or wait until the current contract has expired.

"I believe we should be able to set up some type of procedures where there is accountability and we can go back to see whether supervisors or others are doing their job in terms of searching these employees," Sen. Will Espero, Public Safety chairman, told KITV4.  

Espero's counterpart in the state House, Rep. Henry Aquino, said he would be monitoring Sakai's department, but that he still has confidence in the director.

"I think we're going to work and look at this very closely…to see how we can do on our part legislatively, (and) what we can do to make sure that Public Safety follows their policies and procedures," he said.  

A pre-trial hearing for Damas has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 17. Kurren said the hearing will be waived should a federal grand jury indict Damas.

Sakai said he wasn't surprised by the arrest of two prison guards in as many weeks, since his department has been working with law enforcement to weed out corrupt individuals.

"This kind of trafficking makes it dangerous for our good employees, and most of our employees are good, professional public servants," he said.

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