POSTED: 1:22 p.m. HST, Jan 27, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 3:37 p.m. HST, Jan 27, 2014
A federal judge released a 45-year-old Halawa prison guard this afternoon on a $50,000 signature bond.
Federal Judge Barry Kurren approved Marc Damas' request to go free after a 2:30 p.m. initial appearance at U.S. District Court.
Kurren said he will be released to the custody of his wife.
Damas is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with the intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine.
Damas is suspected of accepting payments for distributing contraband such as cigarettes, cigarette lighters, Krazy Glue, pipes for crack or cocaine, and narcotics such as meth, or "ice," and various forms of cocaine to Halawa prisoners, according to a court affidavit.
Meantime, as part of the ongoing evaluation of security measures in place at the state's prison system, officials are tightening procedures tied to searches of both visitors and correctional guards, the head of the state's correctional system said today.
Ted Sakai, director of the state Department of Public Safety, also said the frequency of inmates random drug testing will be increased.
During a press conference, Sakai said the arrest Sunday of Marc Damas at his post as adult correctional officer at the Halawa Correctional Facility was not a surprise since the state has been working with federal and county law officers to try to control the flow of illegal drugs into island prisons.
Damas, 45, is the second prison guard this month to have been charged with smuggling methamphetamine into the Oahu prison.
Halawa guard James "Kimo" Sanders III pleaded not guilty Jan. 13 to smuggling meth into the prison and bribery. Sanders, 31, of Kailua, was arrested at the prison Jan. 12 and charged with two counts of distributing methamphetamine; conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine; and bribery.
Sanders, who is accused of distributing five grams or more of meth on Nov. 15, and distributing 50 grams or more of meth a week later, was released to his grandmother on a $50,000 bond and ordered by the judge to turn over his passport and wear a GPS tracking device. His trial is set for March 18.
Sakai said Damas' arrest is part of "a continuing investigation" that is ongoing "to root out corruption in our facilities."
"Contraband is a problem in almost every correctional facility in the country," Sakai told reporters. "It's a particular problem for us. It's not that we are any better or any worse."
He continued, "We recognize that contraband, especially drugs, becomes a real problem in management of the facility, safety of the employees and safety of the inmates. It also affects our ability to provide the right kind of programs for inmates."
Sakai said prison gangs use contraband to exert control within the prisons and acknowledged that there are multiple gangs within the 1,000-inmate prison population.
Sakai said that all prison guards are supposed to be searched before entering the prisons and even padded down before starting their shift. Nearly 1,300 prison guards are employed by the state. As a result of the prison system's security evaluation, the searches will likely become more thorough.
If convicted of either conspiracy or distribution of 50 grams or more of meth, Sanders faces up to life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10 million. The maximum penalty for the smaller distribution charge is 40 years in prison, a mandatory minimum term of five years, and a fine of $5 million. The maximum penalty for the bribery charge is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.