HTH – Prison papers were illegally burned in pit 4/29/10

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Prison papers were illegally burned in pit

Sen. Espero slams records disposal at Kulani last year

By JOHN BURNETT Tribune-Herald staff writer

A state senator says the Department of Public Safety broke state and county laws and adminis t r a t i v e rules during last year’s closure of Kulani Corre c t i o n a l Facility.

S e n . Will Espero, chairman of the Public Safety & Military Affairs Committee, said that a hearing Wednesday morning at the state Capitol “confirmed what we suspected.”

A number of former Kulani officials verified that documents were burned in an open pit in October and November, a violation of the county’s open burning ban in effect since 2008. It’s also possible that burning records — as well as pornographic VHS videotapes once used in Kulani’s sex offender treatment program — violated state clean air laws and statutes concerning document disposal.

“The handling of the records disposal was poorly done with little leadership and accountability,” Espero, a Leeward Oahu Democrat, said Wednesday afternoon.

“It seems as if there was a lot of things going on without properly thinking them out, for example, a permit to burn. There was no permit to burn.  And this was during … the burn ban on the Big Island. And yet, these guys went on ahead.

So they didn’t do their due diligence.” “We asked one question: ‘Who gave you the authority to dig a hole and burn?’

And nobody could answer me on that. No one could,” Espero noted.

Peter McDonald, former Kulani warden who’s now acting warden at Hawaii Community Correctional Center, testified under subpoena that his then-second in-command, Capt. Clement Gusman, took charge of the facility’s closure at the direction of DPS Deputy Director Tommy Johnson.

Under questioning by Espero, McDonald said he found it strange that he was bypassed by superiors and added: “There was an atmosphere of  severe depression, so I didn’t know. You’d have to ask my superiors.”

McDonald said when the decision was made to burn the materials, he went to the Keaau Fire Station to inform them it was happening “because they take an active interest in smoke going up over Kulani.” He said he talked to lowerranked firefighters about the burning and didn’t consult higher-ranking officials, or request permission.

“I never thought that they would deny us the burning of the documents, but I thought they ought to be aware, because they’re the first  responders,” McDonald said.

McDonald said he “wasn’t aware” there was a burning ban in effect on the island. He also said no records were kept of what was burned.

Gusman, who’s now a watch captain at Oahu Community Correctional Center, was subpoenaed to testify.

He appeared in uniform with a state deputy attorney general as legal counsel. Asked who ordered the burning, Gusman replied: “I honestly don’t know who made that determination.”

“It came down that we needed to do something with the records, and we talked about destruction, and the first course of action was, preferred to shred, but we determined that shredding was cost-prohibitive,” Gusman said. “… We started burning for different reasons.

We did not start to burn records. The burning started specifically was to destroy pornographic material that was used in the past with the sex  offender treatment program.”

Gusman said he talked to “someone in the fire administration” but testified that he couldn’t remember whom. He said the porn videos were burned in 55 gallon drums, not the pit.

He said pornography is no longer used in the rehabilitation of sex offenders. Daniel Kauleinamoku, who coordinates record maintenance for DPS, said that records can either be shredded or burned, “but there must be ample documentation and witnesses on site to the burning.”

“If you were asked, would you have said burning is your first choice?” Espero inquired. “No. I would have said shredding, but due to (budget considerations), we have to find alternatives,” Kauleinamoku answered.

State archivist Susan Shaner testified that under state law, the Department of Accounting and General Service is supposed to be notified when documents are destroyed.

“They’re supposed to report to us when they do that on a specific form. We didn’t get any report on any form,” she said.

“Would you ever advise any department to dig a hole and burn records, in your professional position?” Espero queried.

“I probably would suggest that people shred way of doing it,” she asked.

Jill Stensrud of the Department of Health’s Clean Air Branch testified that the DOH was not given required notification of the burning, but would not

comment further on alleged violations pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation.

She said it “would have been prudent” if DPS had filed a written request before burning.

E-mail John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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