New trial ordered for KCCC lawsuit

LIHUE — A former social worker will get a new trial after losing a two-year-long court battle in which she alleged the warden of Kauai Community Correctional Center fired her after she reported him for allegedly subjecting female inmates to psychological humiliation and abuse.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday issued a remand for a new trial in a 2014 lawsuit, reversing a district court decision dismissing Carolyn Ritchie’s claims against the state Department of Public Safety and KCCC warden Neal Wagatsuma.

Wagatsuma took the stand in the trial and admitted to subjecting prisoners to a program he called “shame therapy,” in which he showed inmates movies depicting extreme violence and rape and yelled gender-specific derogatory obscenities at female prisoners during group-therapy sessions he conducted.

Following a 16-day trial and a week of deliberations in late-2016, a federal jury reached a unanimous verdict in favor of the defendants, dismissing Ritchie’s claims on the grounds that her First Amendment rights weren’t violated because she was not acting as a private citizen when she made internal reports regarding Wagatsuma’s conduct.

Ninth Circuit judges overturned that decision Tuesday, ruling that a jury “could have reasonably concluded that Ritchie spoke as a private citizen when she made complaints to her supervisor and others” in the public safety department.

In a memo detailing the ruling, Ninth Circuit judges “enumerated a number of factors” for future jurors in the new trial to consider regarding whether Ritchie’s complaints were made in the course of her duties as a KCCC employee. The First Amendment protects the free speech of public employees in the workplace unless that speech is made pursuant to official responsibilities.

First among factors the judges said jurors should take into account is the fact that Ritchie’s complaints about Wagatsuma were not confined to her chain of command, citing evidence showing Ritchie spoke to investigators from the Department of Public Safety internal affairs division and reported suspected abuse to the American Civil Liberties Union, the FBI and multiple state agencies.

The state’s defense argument in the appellate case largely relies on Ritchie’s testimony, stating that as a licensed social worker she was a mandatory reporter. But the Ninth Circuit Court decided a juror reviewing the evidence presented “could decide that Ritchie’s reports were not part of her job,” and found “the district court erred in holding otherwise.”

Wagatsuma was also named as a defendant in another lawsuit, filed in 2014 on behalf an ex-inmate at KCCC who alleged Wagatsuma subjected her and other female prisoners to public sexual shaming. The original complaint in that case was also dismissed and successfully appealed. A trial is scheduled early next year.

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

4 Comments
  1. Charlie Chimknee February 23, 2019 6:15 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    A question would be is the procedure of shaming, etc., of the female inmates and/or the male inmates that the Warden is allegedly doing…is it resulting in the reduction of recidivision, a reduction of inmates returning as prisoners for subsequent crimes or parole or probation violations?

    If the Warden’s actions are keeping people from returning to prison then the value of good should be considered.for the benefit of the prisoner as well as the community if the Warden is effecting a deterent of a return to more crimes upon prisoner release.

    On the other hand seeing prisoners playing volleyball while so mich work is needed in the community makes one wonder what is the mindset of what is going on?

    Mahalo,

    Charles


  2. JudicialCorruption February 23, 2019 7:19 am Reply

    Judicial corruption on Kauai is as real as it gets. It blows by the Kealoha public corruption cas.

    The people on Kauai knows this but are too afraid to speak up.

    Cops, Judges, lawyers and politicians all know this and are part of the problem or keep silent.

    It’s all about power and control. Evil runs the island and they have sworn to protect and serve.

    The case with the warden admitting to showing rape videos and forcing women to tealk about their experiences of rape with male prisoners creates and fosters a complete opposite environment from what jail/prison is suppose to be.

    Why do these ladies have to be tortured and tormented into reliving being sexually assaulted as children and women to male inmates involved in domestic violence, rape, drug dealing that is associated with that scene?

    Where is the check’s and balances at both county and state levels?

    This is just like the 4 audits that has proved criminal actions in county government through fraud, waste, and abuse but nothing is done.

    This is a serious mental illness and psychological issues that plagued Kauai and it’s piblic officials.

    Public corruption and judicial corruption on Kauai is no better than how the Kealoha case is being played out on Oahu. In fact all islands face the same issues because it is the root of all the evil problems in the state of Hawaii.


  3. Ninth Circus March 14, 2019 12:22 pm Reply

    The Ninth Circus Court if appeals is the most liberal left wing appeals court in the world- the overturned a majority of the cases that come before them- they need to be replaced by the President to prevent Judges from legislating from the bench


  4. Loretta Chardin March 27, 2019 7:45 pm Reply

    bodhimom@gmail.com

    I applaud the courage and perseverance of Ms. Ritchie. Sometimes, it takes just one decent human being to expose depraved actions, such as were made by the warden. We need more people like Ms. Ritchie!


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