How long should it take to investigate state worker allegations of wrongdoing while they’re out on administrative leave at taxpayer’s expense? How about eight or nine years?
Problems at the windward Oahu boy’s correctional facility allegedly have pitted many of the adults against one another. Add in a former ward who is retracting one allegation while levying new charges, and it’s all piling up investigations, which in the past have led to costly leaves of absence and legal challenges.
Former Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility ward Kevin Gouveia, now a 19-year-old adult, is speaking out alleging he was made a pawn behind bars. He says he was told by a supervisor to set up a fellow guard.
“He wanted me to write that he bought me cigarettes on my pass, he bought me weed, and crack cocaine on my pass and let me smoke it,” Gouveia said. “That didn’t happen.”
But Gouveia wrote it anyway, saying the supervisor threatened to send him to OCCC — the adult jail — if he didn’t. (KHON2 is excluding all staff names cited in the varying allegations.) That letter, among other accusations, landed one youth corrections officer under investigation and on paid leave, while another allegedly faced physical danger from a separate purported bribe.
“He told me you want $25? I’ll give you $25 you go outside right now and whack (a YCO),” Gouveia said.
A former corrections officer says he witnessed the bribe for the punch – a punch that didn’t end up getting swung. Some other guards say they back Gouveia. One even filed a police report alleging criminal solicitation. The Department of Human Services, which oversees youth corrections, says they have not been contacted by police, but DHS did confirm several staff are under departmental investigation.
“This is a serious allegation,” said David Hipp, DHS’s executive director of youth services, “and we’re treating it as such.”
The bribery allegations are getting investigative response even with the source being a former ward, Gouveia, who himself told KHON2 he had 3 first degree robberies, 1 second degree, stolen cars, what he calls a “bunch” of thefts, and runaway charges before the age of 18.
“Even though there may be some issues with credibility, it’s still incumbent upon us to take the allegations seriously,” Hipp said.
“I just want justice to be served, I want for the younger kids that’s coming in now not to go through this,” Gouveia said of his reason for retracting his first story and levying new allegations. “It kind of tore me up a little bit. After I got out I tried to contact the YCO that I made this stuff to and I told him it was a lie and how bad I felt about it.”
Upon further questioning by KHON2, Gouveia maintains it was he who sought out the YCO, and that the accused YCO did not influence him to change his story.
KHON2 has learned staff were put on paid leave over the matter.
“We try to wrap investigations up within 30 days if we possibly can,” Hipp said. “We can put staff on administrative leave without pay for those 30 days before the pay kicks back in.”
But a fast turnaround hasn’t always been the case for paid leaves at this facility. KHON2 learned past disputes between staff have led to administrative absences of as long as 8 and 9 years there.
“That is a concern,” Hipp said. “When I came on board in January 2010 there were already four staff out on extensive leave, several years, several years.”
Of those four, Hipp says two 2 have since been dismissed, one has returned to work, and another is still pending a court case. He said everything from union procedures, to finding witnesses, to changing stories stretch out the process.
There are no rules at this or other departments to block paid leaves from running on. Hipp said they’re keeping a much tighter timeline now. One state worker connected to this case, on leave since the fall, told KHON2 he’s now already been informed of termination. No word yet on the disposition of the others now under investigation.
“I can assure the taxpayers that we will do everything that we possibly can in a timely manner,” Hipp said.