Haliimaile man guilty of harassment, disorderly conduct
WAILUKU — A man who used a racial slur while accosting two teenagers in a Pukalani restaurant was found guilty Friday of harassment and disorderly conduct.
The language used by Antonio Gimbernat was “offensive and coarse” and exceeded the bounds of the constitutional protection of free speech, Wailuku District Judge Kelsey Kawano said in announcing the guilty verdicts.
In a trial last month, then-15-year-old Antonio Mason and his then-16-year-old girlfriend, Christiane Keyhani, testified they were stunned, shocked and frightened when Gimbernat accosted them in the Pukalani McDonald’s at 6:44 p.m. Feb. 22.
According to witnesses, Gimbernat spoke in a loud, aggressive, angry tone when he said, “I’m sick of you f—ing niggers,” to Mason, who is African-American.
Mason said he was afraid that the stranger was going to hit him.
Gimbernat’s words drew the attention of two other customers and an employee who was concerned because other customers were getting involved.
Gimbernat continued confronting Mason, saying, “Do you know your ethnicity? You shouldn’t be with that white girl.”
Mason took out his cellphone and was filming Gimbernat as another customer got between them, turned Gimbernat around and walked him out the door.
Kawano said Gimbernat said the words in a way he knew would likely and “in fact did result in an immediate violent response.”
Deputy Prosecutor Joshua Kent recommended that Gimbernat be sentenced to consecutive jail terms totaling 60 days, the maximum penalty for the petty misdemeanor offenses.
“The defendant showed an excessive and unnecessary level of threatening conduct and viciousness,” Kent said. “His action was directed toward two innocent minors.”
Kent said Gimbernat, a 49-year-old Haliimaile resident, was superior to the teenagers in size, age and experience.
Along with posing a danger to the victims, Gimbernat was a poor prospect for rehabilitation, Kent said.
He said Gimbernat was placed on probation for a 1998 conviction in Newport Beach, Calif., for willful cruelty to a child.
“Yet here he is with this predatory behavior toward children,” Kent said.
Speaking in court, Laurie Keyhani said that her daughter was shaking and scared when she arrived home that night.
“I will always be grateful for the people who stood up between him and my daughter,” she said. “I don’t know what would have happened if they hadn’t been courageous enough to stand up and support the two.
“We have never, ever thought we would experience something like this, and it is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.”
David Mason said the incident has had a lasting effect on his son that has been noticed by not only his parents but teachers and community mentors.
“We not only seek justice for our son,” Mason said. “We wish to begin documenting the behavior of Mr. Gimbernat. It is our hope he will help Mr. Gimbernat to keep his racist opinions to himself and most importantly, not attack minors.”
Kent said residents should feel safe when they leave their homes.
“The community needs to be protected from the defendant and, quite frankly, the defendant needs to be protected from the community,” Kent said.
Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Wolfenbarger said Gimbernat had apologized at a hearing on a temporary restraining order sought by the victims this year.
At the hearing, Gimbernat “said he was upset, said he shouldn’t have said it,” Wolfenbarger said.
“He feels the same way today,” Wolfenbarger said. “He was having a bad day, saw something he disagreed with and it got him upset. He regrets it.”
Court records show a three-year petition for injunction against harassment was granted to the teenagers March 6.
Gimbernat’s photo has been in the media and on the internet, and he has received threats on Facebook, Wolfenbarger said.
“Everyone on Maui knows who my client is, and they have an opinion,” Wolfenbarger said. “He’s lost the possibility of jobs, lost money. And I will note that he has been no trouble since this incident.”
In other cases where people have physically harmed others, the prosecution has sought less jail time and fines or community service, Wolfenbarger said.
The judge scheduled sentencing for Feb. 6. He ordered Gimbernat to participate in a presentence investigation.
Gimbernat ran as a Republican for U.S. House in 2010 and as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 2012.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.