Charges dismissed against telescope protester

Ruling pending on whether he can be charged again

Haleakala telescope protester Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo (right) appears Wednesday in Wailuku District Court with his attorney, Hayden Aluli. Charges against Kaeo were dismissed when Judge Kelsey Kawano ruled that more than six months had passed without the case going to trial. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — Charges were dismissed Wednesday against a Haleakala telescope protester when a judge ruled that more than six months had passed without the defendant’s case going to trial.

Wailuku District Judge Kelsey Kawano said he would be issuing a ruling on whether the dismissal would be with prejudice or without prejudice. That would determine whether Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo could be charged again in the case.

“The six-month speedy trial rule has been exceeded,” Kawano said. “The issue is going to be whether that dismissal will be with or without prejudice.”

Kaeo, 51, of Kula was among six protesters arrested in the early-morning hours of Aug. 2 as dozens of protesters gathered at Kula Highway and Old Haleakala Highway to confront a large vehicle convoy carrying equipment for construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope at the Haleakala summit.

Kaeo was released on his own recognizance after being charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway and refusing to comply with a police officer’s order.

His trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 24.

But when Kaeo was asked to give his name that day, he repeatedly responded in Hawaiian and the court said it couldn’t make a determination that Kaeo was in court. A bench warrant was issued for Kaeo but was later recalled.

The court earlier had granted the prosecution’s request to have the trial conducted in English.

At another hearing, Kaeo, who asserted his right to speak in the Hawaiian language, was granted an interpreter. His trial was rescheduled for May 23, but was again delayed when he submitted a motion, written in Hawaiian, asking that his case be dismissed because his rights to a speedy trial were violated.

The document was translated from Hawaiian to English before the hearing Wednesday.

Kaliko Trapp, a certified court interpreter in Hilo, appeared in court by telephone to translate what Kaeo said in Hawaiian to English.

Kaeo earlier had chosen to represent himself, but attorney Hayden Aluli filed a notice last week that he would be representing Kaeo in the case.

Aluli argued Wednesday that the case should be dismissed with prejudice so Kaeo couldn’t be charged again.

Kaeo, a Hawaiian studies professor at the University of Hawaii Maui College, had to cancel classes because of the court case, Aluli said.

“It was a political, nonviolent protest,” Aluli said. “Don’t give the government another chance to send Mr. Kaeo down another road of prosecution.”

Deputy Prosecutor Terence Herndon asked that the dismissal be without prejudice, saying the charges were serious with each carrying penalties of up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The charges are based on allegations that Kaeo placed himself into the path of a semitractor-trailer truck during the protest and was pulled out of the way by Maui Police Department officers, Herndon said.

“This case isn’t simply about the defendant exercising his right to protest,” he said. “The defendant’s actions were reckless, harmful and caused MPD officers as well as himself to go into harm’s way.

“For that reason, we believe the case is serious enough to reprosecute.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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