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Chief of Training for Hawaii Prison and Jail Guards Charged with Falsifying Educational Credentials, Out on Paid Leave

by Jo Ellen Nott

Hawaii Department of Public Safety (DPS) Public Training Officer J. Marte Martinez, who oversaw the training of thousands of state prison guards and deputy sheriffs working as guards in county jails, was arrested in her office on April 7, 2022, on charges of perjury, tampering with a government record and unsworn falsification to authorities.

After being hired in 2014, Martinez quickly rose through the ranks to become head of training at DPS, promotions she got despite questions about her qualifications. After Hawaii News Now procured documents regarding Martinez’ education and experience in 2019, those questions led to a hearing before the state Labor Relations Board, in which Martinez answered questions under oath about her education and school transcripts.

Authorities now say she lied.

Democratic state Sen. Clarence Nishihara publicly questioned Martinez during the 2019 hearing and said more needs to be done to verify the qualifications of people seeking promotions.  Nishihara claims DPS did not perform due diligence in Martinez’s case.

Attorney Ted Hong also questioned Martinez during that 2019 hearing. Hong had represented a prison guard who was fired and blamed Martinez’ lack of qualifications for the guard’s improper training.  Hong claimed Martinez’ arrest reflected poorly on the leadership of former DPS Director Nolan Espinda, who retired suddenly in August 2020.

The documents in question include a bachelor’s degree from Southern Oregon University. The school’s enrollment office reported no record that Martinez received that degree. The alleged false statements from the hearing also included Martinez’s claim to have a liberal arts degree from a Virginia university whose name matches that of a community college that offers nothing higher than an associate’s degree. For every promotion Martinez received, she resubmitted her documents, allegedly knowing they were not legitimate.

Through her attorney, she offered to take a polygraph, attend meetings, and self-surrender, but Attorney General Holly Shikada (D) rejected that proposal. Martinez pleaded not guilty and was released on $11,000 bail on April 14, 2022. She is now on paid administrative leave with a trial set for June 13, 2022, before Circuit Court Judge Fa’auuga To’oto’o.

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