Stealing rum, punching clerk lead to felony charges

Good Samaritan stopped suspect

WAILUKU — A 48-year-old man is facing robbery and other felony charges after testimony that he punched and elbowed a store clerk and left without paying for a bottle of rum at Longs Drugs in Kihei.

Sterling Mason, who gave no local address, was arrested after police were dispatched to the store at 8:44 a.m. Saturday.

At a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Wailuku District Court, a store employee testified she saw Mason stuffing a bottle of liquor, then batteries down his pants. When she walked up to him in an aisle, he gave back the batteries but refused to hand over the liquor and punched her in the chest, she said.

She described losing her breath and going backward.

Mason walked past her toward the cash registers as she followed and repeatedly told him to stop, she said.

He was about to leave the store when she walked up next to him and he elbowed her in her left shoulder, causing her to fall backward, she said. She said she grabbed his shirt as she was falling.

Outside the store, a good Samaritan got Mason to give back the bottle of rum.

Kihei patrol officer Keola McKee, who was in the area, arrived quickly and arrested Mason.

“He appeared intoxicated,” McKee said. “He was very unstable on his feet.”

Mason had slurred speech and the odor of liquor coming from his breath and body, McKee said.

He said Mason’s criminal history includes convictions for second-degree burglary and second-degree theft in separate cases. In January, he was placed on four years’ probation for those crimes.

Judge Keith Tanaka ruled there was probable cause to support the felony charges of second-degree robbery and two counts of habitual property crime against Mason. He is also charged with third-degree assault and fourth-degree theft.

The habitual property crime charge can be brought against someone who is arrested and has two prior felony convictions within 10 years.

Mason is set to be arraigned July 31 in 2nd Circuit Court.

In October 2017, Mason was placed on five years’ probation for habitual property crime, with the remainder of a one-year jail term suspended after he completed a residential drug treatment program. In that case, he was arrested in December 2016 for hitting an employee while shoplifting a bottle of rum from Kihei Safeway, police said.

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