WAILUKU - A six-month jail term was ordered Thursday for a man found guilty of trying to extort money from tourists and assaulting a man with a rake during a confrontation in the Twin Falls area of Haiku last year.
Jesse Nakooka, 37, of Hana also was placed on five years' probation and was ordered to complete an anger management program.
In a trial in August, a jury found Nakooka guilty of the lesser charge of third-degree attempted extortion, as well as second-degree assault, third-degree assault by mutual affray and third-degree assault of the California visitors on July 1, 2012. He was found not guilty of harassment of another visitor.
The tourists, who were on Maui to celebrate the cancer survival of a woman in the group, had returned from a 45-minute midday hike and found Nakooka's chicken stand blocking in their car. Nakooka demanded $20 for parking on his land, then asked for more money once the $20 was handed over, the tourists testified.
During a confrontation that followed, one man reported being punched in the back of the head and another man said he was hit on the left side of his face and across his left chest with a rake wielded by Nakooka. The rake had a sharp broken handle.
Deputy Public Defender Annalisa Bernard said that a brawl started when one of the tourists threw the first punch, which she said was reflected in the conviction for third-degree assault by mutual affray.
Nakooka opted to go to trial "because he felt his actions were justified," Bernard said.
"He felt he did have a right to defend himself and his family from what he felt were a large, aggressive group of tourists," she said.
Bernard said that Nakooka accepted the jury's verdicts.
She said a 30-day jail term and probation would be fair for Nakooka, who had previously spent 17 days in jail in the case. Since graduating in 2003 from the Maui Drug Court program of treatment and supervision, Nakooka had started his chicken stand business that was well known on the north shore, Bernard said. She said Nakooka was providing for his wife and five children.
In arguing for a five-year prison term for Nakooka, Deputy Prosecutor Jerrie Sheppard disputed the defense account of what happened that day.
She said Nakooka was the aggressor, putting a table in front of the tourists' rental car and putting his young children on the table to prevent the group from leaving. After getting $20, he demanded an additional $20 for each person in the car, Sheppard said.
"He showed no regard for anyone, even his own children," she said. "As things developed, he became more aggressive. I don't know if he thought this was a sport, but his aggression was very severe."
She said a visitor who was at Twin Falls earlier in the day described similar aggressive behavior by Nakooka when he partially entered her car and demanded money "for parking on my land."
Police found Nakooka with "11 crisp, fresh $20 bills" when he was arrested, Sheppard said. "It really begs the question - did he do this 10 other times successfully?" she said.
Sheppard said that the victims were fearful of Nakooka when they returned to Maui to testify at his trial.
Had the visitors not reported what happened to police and returned to testify, "we would probably still have chicken sales and extortion going on at Twin Falls," Sheppard said. She said the chicken stand was shut down by the state, which doesn't allow vendors on its property without a permit.
"I don't think you would want somebody to treat your family the way you treated those people that day," 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza told Nakooka. "This whole thing could have been avoided.
"None of this had to happen, and you would just be selling your chicken."
In sentencing Nakooka, Cardoza said a report prepared for the sentencing supported probation for Nakooka.
"You have many redeeming qualities," the judge told Nakooka. "But sometimes you see the world through your eyes and your eyes only. Sometimes your vision's not good."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.