2 Hawaiian men guilty of hate crime in white man’s beating

Nov 17, 2022, 4:27 PM | Updated: 9:51 pm
Chico Kaonohi, left, prays with Priscilla Hoʻopiʻi, center, and Lana Vierra, right, outside U.S. ...

Chico Kaonohi, left, prays with Priscilla Hoʻopiʻi, center, and Lana Vierra, right, outside U.S. District Court in Honolulu, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, after his Native Hawaiian son was found guilty of a hate crime in the 2014 beating of a white man. U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. detained pending sentencing scheduled for March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

(AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

HONOLULU (AP) — A jury on Thursday found two Native Hawaiian men guilty of a hate crime for the 2014 beating of a white man who was fixing up a house he purchased in their remote Maui neighborhood.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. detained pending sentencing scheduled for March 2, and marshals moved to handcuff the two men after the verdict was announced in the afternoon.

Family members and supporters wept in the courtroom and called out to the men: “I love you,” and “Be good.” “God bless you daddy,” said Alo-Kaonohi’s son Kahue, 3.

In an unusual move, the U.S. Department of Justice sought to prosecute Alo-Kaonohi and Aki and secured a federal grand jury indictment in December 2020 charging each with a hate crime count punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors alleged during the trial in U.S. District Court in Honolulu that Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were motivated by Christopher Kunzelman’s race when they punched, kicked and used a shovel to beat him in Kahakuloa village. Kunzelman was left with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma, prosecutors said.

Alo-Kaonohi previously pleaded no contest to felony assault in state court and was sentenced to probation, while Aki pleaded no contest to terroristic threatening and was sentenced to probation and nearly 200 days in jail. The federal trial was held separately, to determine if they were guilty of a hate crime. It’s unclear why it took so long for U.S. prosecutors to pursue hate crime charges.

Local attorneys say they’ve never heard of the federal government prosecuting Native Hawaiians for hate crimes before this case.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki did not deny the assault but said it was not a hate crime. It was not race that sparked the attack, they said, but Kunzelman’s entitled and disrespectful attitude.

The men were upset that Kunzelman cut locks to village gates, their attorneys said. Kunzelman said he did so because residents were locking him in and out. He testified that he wanted to provide the village with better locks and distribute keys to residents.

Kunzelman testified that while Alo-Kaonohi and Aki beat him, they told him no white people would ever live in Kahakuloa village. However, he acknowledged that’s not heard in video recorded during the attack.

Kunzelman said he decided to take two pistols to Maui after hearing that a contractor he hired to do mold remediation had been assaulted when he showed up and after his realtor said the close-knit community of Native Hawaiians had a problem with white people.

He also installed cameras on his vehicle, which were on during the attack. The vehicle was parked under the house and recorded images of what was happening downstairs, including Aki pacing with a shovel on his shoulder. The video only captured audio from the assault, which took place upstairs.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi an Aki told jurors the video shows that they didn’t use any racial slurs.

“Haole,” a Hawaiian word with meanings that include foreign and white person, was central to the case, highlighting multicultural Hawaii’s nuanced and complicated relationship with race.

At one point Aki is heard saying, “You’s a haole, eh,” using a Hawaiian word that can mean white person. Defense attorneys said he didn’t use the word in a derogatory way.

“It’s not a hate crime to assault somebody and in the course of it use the word ‘haole,'” court-appointed attorney Lynn Panagakos said during her opening statement. She noted that Aki is part-Hawaiian and part-haole.

“‘Haole’ has multiple meanings depending on the context,” she said. “It’s an accepted word.”

Megan Kau, a Native Hawaiian attorney not involved in the case, said it depends on the tone and manner in which the word is used.

“These Native Hawaiians who live in a secluded, very traditional community who use the term ‘haole’ to describe people that are not from Hawaii — that’s the term that they use,” she said. “We all very often use the term ‘haole.’ It’s not derogatory unless you use it in a derogatory sense.”

Wiping away tears outside the courthouse following the verdict, Alo-Kaonohi’s father, Chico Kaonohi, said bias was not a motivation behind the attack and “‘Haole’ is not a racial word.”

“Where we come from, we’re not racial people,” Chico Kaonohi, said. “It wasn’t about race.”

Attorneys for both defendants declined to comment Thursday.

“The jury’s verdict confirms that the rule of law serves to protect all persons in our community from vicious assaults, no matter the color of their skin,” U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors said. “When people commit violent crimes against someone out of hatred for the victim’s race, the Department of Justice will ensure they face criminal consequences in a court of law.”

Kunzelman testified that he and his wife decided to move to Maui from Scottsdale, Arizona, after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He said his wife loved the island.

He said that a Hawaiian woman visited him in his dreams and told him to buy the dilapidated oceanfront house, which he and his wife purchased sight-unseen for $175,000 after coming across a listing for it online.

Kunzelman and his family never got to live in the home, he testified. They now reside in Puerto Rico.

He sat in the courtroom watching as the verdict was announced. He could not immediately be reached for comment afterward.

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that the defendant’s son is 3 years old, not 4.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - An election worker verifies a ballot on a screen inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office...
Associated Press

NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts: ___ Arizona election equipment was certified ahead of midterms CLAIM: Election equipment in Arizona […]
10 hours ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump announces a third run for president as he speaks at Mar-a-Lago...
Associated Press

Prosecution resumes closing argument at Trump Org. trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors resumed their closing argument Friday in the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial, promising to share previously unrevealed details about Donald Trump’s knowledge of a tax dodge scheme hatched by one of his top executives. “Donald Trump knew exactly what was going on with his top executives,” Assistant Manhattan District […]
10 hours ago
FILE - The FTX logo appears on home plate umpire Jansen Visconti's jacket at a baseball game with t...
Associated Press

The pandemic, Karens, crypto craziness: We’re over you, 2022

NEW YORK (AP) — The rudeness pandemic, the actual pandemic and all things gray. There’s a lot to leave behind when 2022 comes to a close as uncertainty rules around the world. The health crisis brought on the dawn of slow living, but it crushed many families forced to hustle for their lives. Karens went […]
10 hours ago
Residents wearing masks cross an intersection in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. More cities eased r...
Associated Press

WHO pleased to see China ease harsh zero COVID policies

LONDON (AP) — A top official at the World Health Organization said the U.N. agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.” At a press briefing on Friday, WHO emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said […]
10 hours ago
Associated Press

Top exec at pharmacy in deadly meningitis outbreak sentenced

BOSTON (AP) — A former co-owner of a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy at the center of a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak that resulted in more than 100 patient deaths has been sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to defraud the federal government. Gregory Conigliaro, 57, as the vice president and general manager of the […]
10 hours ago
FILE - Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdic...
Associated Press

Brother of Russia-imprisoned American says contact resumed

MOSCOW (AP) — The family of Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, said Friday that he has resumed contact after unexpectedly becoming unreachable in November. Along with WNBA star Brittney Griner, Whelan is the focus of efforts by the United States to arrange a prisoner swap with Russia. The Associated Press and […]
10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
2 Hawaiian men guilty of hate crime in white man’s beating