WAILUKU - A homeless man was to be released after spending about eight months in jail, following his arrest for biting a police officer at Kahului Airport last year.
Jerome Payne, 36, was given credit for 250 days he spent in jail and was placed on five years' probation as part of his sentence imposed Tuesday.
In a jury trial last year, he had been found guilty of first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and not guilty of disorderly conduct.
"Basically, I had been in a despondent state," Payne said in court Tuesday. "I don't minimize the incident with the officer. It was more of a response on my behalf than it was malice."
He said he had gone to Kahului Airport the afternoon of Aug. 21 to ask for information on how he could leave the island without having identification.
Police were called after Payne was seen smoking in a no-smoking area of the airport and refused to leave, as security officers asked.
When police officers showed up, they also told Payne to leave and he continued to refuse. Wailuku patrol officers Craig Stephens and Grant Nakamura were grabbing Payne's arms to handcuff him when he stood up and went backward into a planter box near the baggage claim area, dragging the officers with him, according to trial testimony.
Payne bit Stephens' left hand, leaving puncture marks that were still visible when the officer testified at the trial in December.
Deputy Prosecutor Jerrie Sheppard said Payne acted intentionally and had testified he went to the airport "intending to provoke a situation."
She recommended a five-year prison term for Payne.
"The defendant has no respect for the law," she said. "Why would we put him on probation when he has no respect for the law?"
Defense attorney Ben Summit, who was appointed to represent Payne after the trial, argued for probation.
Payne, who is originally from Virginia, had successfully completed three and a half years of parole there, obtaining the equivalent of a high school diploma and obtaining financial aid for college, Summit said.
He said Payne arrived on Maui in February 2013 while taking a break from a seasonal job. Payne was homeless and had lost his luggage, which contained his identification, Summit said.
"He was in a very depressed mental state when he went to the airport," Summit said.
He said airport surveillance video, which was presented as evidence in the trial, showed Payne at first talking with airport officers who had surrounded him. The video shows Payne "drumming his fingers against the bench" where he sat during the 40 minutes before the police officers arrived, Summit said.
"It was only after the Maui Police Department officer attempted to handcuff Mr. Payne that he did anything at all," Summit said. "He attempted to fight back. He was essentially defending himself. He was not attacking."
Sheppard said the jury found no evidence of self-defense in reaching the guilty verdict.
In sentencing Payne, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza said "none of this really needed to happen."
"You made choices," Cardoza told Payne. "As a result, you've had to deal with the consequences that flow from that."
As part of probation, Payne was ordered not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs and to maintain mental health treatment. Payne was ordered to stay away from airports on Maui unless he has written permission from his probation officer.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.