WAILUKU - Kihei Safeway employees testified they were scared and shaking after confrontations with three Kihei men turned violent early Monday as the employees tried to stop suspected shoplifters from leaving the store.
"My adrenalin was rushing, but at the same time I was really shaking," said Jonathan Laloulu, who works at night as a stocker at the store in Piilani Village Shopping Center.
He and other employees described the 30- to 35-minute episode that included one employee being stabbed and punched and another having a shopping cart and a ceramic flower pot thrown at him. Two men were seen with kitchen knives, with one knife used to shatter a store window, according to witnesses. They also said beer bottles and cans were thrown at the front of the store.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Defendants Ambrose Avilla (from left), Dayton Avilla and Chris Cudlipp are led into Wailuku District Court for their preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon by Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Wright. The three men are charged with crimes stemming from an alleged attempt to shoplift liquor and steaks from the Kihei Safeway early Monday before a confrontation with store employees turned violent.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Kihei Safeway security guard Andre Baguyo points while identifying Chris Cudlipp on Thursday.
The employees described what happened during a preliminary hearing Thursday in Wailuku District Court for the three men charged in the case.
Judge Mimi DesJardins ruled there was enough evidence to support charges against Chris Cudlipp, 25, and brothers Ambrose Avilla, 22, and Dayton Ikaika Avilla, 20.
She kept bail at $25,100 for Cudlipp, who is charged with second-degree assault, second-degree terroristic threatening, attempted second-degree assault and fourth-degree theft.
Bail remained at $15,000 for Dayton Avilla, who was charged with first-degree criminal property damage and first-degree terroristic threatening.
Ambrose Avilla was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail on charges of second-degree robbery, fourth-degree theft, second-degree terroristic threatening and first-degree assault.
Both Avillas are on probation.
DesJardins ordered all three to stay away from Kihei Safeway if released on bail.
"This was an unprovoked attack on a place that is open to the public," said Deputy Prosecutor Cody Minatodani, who had argued for bail increases for all three men. She said all three posed a danger to the community.
Shortly before 12:30 a.m. Monday, Laloulu said he heard Ambrose Avilla say "let's do this" as he and Cudlipp headed for the liquor aisle in the store.
Cudlipp had a bottle of rum and steaks, and Avilla appeared to be hiding something under his shirt when Laloulu and security guard Andre Baguyo blocked the suspected shoplifters as they passed the cash registers and appeared to be heading for a store exit, Laloulu said.
"Ambrose gets in my face with his fists pumped up to me; it looked like almost kissing me," Laloulu said. "So I just shoved him out of the way. He said, 'Oh, you want to do this? I'm not stealing nothing.' "
The employees said they wanted to detain Avilla and Cudlipp so they could get them to sign trespass notices to prevent them from returning to the store.
Then employees heard a "bang" as something hit the store window.
"We all ducked," Baguyo said.
He went outside to check on a sedan that was leaving the parking lot.
Laloulu said a truck pulled up near the sidewalk outside the store with Dayton Avilla standing in the bed.
"He was raising his hands up like he wanted to scrap," Laloulu said. "He throws a bottle or beer can and jumps out of the bed with a steak knife. Looked like he was trying to come rush us with the knife."
Witnesses said several people were in or around the truck.
Baguyo said he had just gotten back inside the store when "beer bottles and cans were flying through the store."
He said Dayton Avilla, the knife still in his hand, broke the store window from the outside, shattering glass that fell inside the store.
"Once the glass shattered, everybody that was in the store went crazy," said employee Omar Agor.
He said he and other employees ran outside.
Employee Ashley Maldonado said he stepped outside the store and was stabbed by Cudlipp, suffering a laceration to his left forearm when he blocked the knife from his torso.
Maldonado said he was at the driver's side of the truck when he was hit from behind and turned to see Ambrose Avilla. Maldonado said his jaw was broken in two places and he required stitches to his arm. He testified with his jaw wired shut.
Agor was standing by the door when Cudlipp began yelling and challenging him to a fight while wielding the knife.
"I told him if you want to fight, drop the knife, be a real man," Agor said. "But he still had the knife."
Agor testified he was angry and got into a confrontation with Ambrose Avilla. Agor said a flower pot was kicked, hitting him in the head. He was exchanging words with Ambrose Avilla when Dayton Avilla squeezed past his brother to grab a shopping cart, which he lifted about 3 feet off the ground, Agor said.
"Right when he launches it, I slap it down," Agor said. "My hand hurt."
"They had a chance to leave if they wanted to, but they still came back," Baguyo said. "They were already outside the door, but they still kept coming back."
After Maldonado grabbed Ambrose Avilla inside the store, Agor said he punched a struggling Avilla three times in the face. Avilla fell to his knees, continuing to struggle until Maldonado pinned Avilla to the ground just before police arrived, Agor said.
He said he didn't see anyone else hit Avilla, who suffered two black eyes, bruises and a scratch on his face, according to defense attorney Chris Dunn.
Kihei patrol officer William Melton said he recovered a 12-inch-long kitchen knife with an 8-inch blade that was believed to have been wielded by Cudlipp. Melton photographed four packages of steak and a bottle of rum that were valued at $96.
All three defendants were arrested at the scene. They are scheduled to be arraigned April 14 in 2nd Circuit Court.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.