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Lawmaker, candidate cited for emergency rule violations

Wildberger said her case ‘clearly one of what-aboutism’

TINA WILDBERGER, Cited for stretching on beach

State House Rep. Tina Wildberger said she and her husband were “actively stretching in the sand” and “socially distanced” when they were issued citations last month for violating Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The citations, issued the morning of May 3 at Keawakapu Beach in Kihei, say Wildberger and her husband, Michael, were seen stretching without moving from a spot for more than 10 minutes. The couple both told a police officer they did the same thing the day before without being cited by police, according to the citations.

A July 16 arraignment date is set for the Wildbergers in Wailuku District Court on the misdemeanor charge, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

In an email Thursday responding to a Maui News call asking about the citations, Tina Wildberger said police officers on all-terrain vehicles were stopped in the shade at Mana Kai Maui while she and her husband were stretching that day.

“After some time, one officer approached and stated they had observed us in one place for ten minutes,” her email said. “We responded that we are actively stretching and that beach exercise had been permitted by the mayor.”

She said the same officers had seen the couple the day before and “greeted us good morning on their way by without admonishment.”

“But this day, there was a sedentary beachgoer who was cited by the patrol team, who gestured to us and said: ‘What about them.’ They are ‘sitting’ on the beach,” Wildberger said. “A difficult position for the officers, I asked him to cite us because I think it is an important conversation to have: that stretching and yoga not be criminalized while we are trying to provide safe spaces for kamaaina to exercise during lockdown.”

She said her husband “can neither walk, nor run due to debilitating chronic back pain, so stretching is beneficial for him and a regular part of our exercise routine.”

“We typically ride bike to the ocean, swim/paddle, then stretch before riding home uphill,” she said.

When they appear in court next month, “we intend to present that while officers were put in a very difficult position trying to adjudicate various behaviors, all in an effort to keep residents safe, this case was clearly one of what-aboutism.”

She said the police officer “acknowledged that we were actively stretching.”

“But since the previous cited individual was demanding we be cited too, he felt the need to appear consistent,” Wildberger said. “I felt it was important to have a conversation in the community about whether stretching and yoga while socially distanced, particularly if lockdown was going to be protracted, was going to be considered banned activity.”

Wildberger represents state House District 11, which includes Kihei, Wailea and Makena.

In Mayor Michael Victorino’s emergency order that took effect in mid-March, when county beach parks were closed, sunbathing, sunset-watching and other sedentary activities were prohibited at beaches, although other activities, including exercise and fishing, were allowed. On May 16, beaches were opened for all activities.

From March 20 to May 29, police reported issuing more than 1,000 citations for violating state and county emergency orders. Most of the violations were at beaches and many were in South Maui, police said.

Another citation for violating emergency public health rules was issued at 8:20 p.m. May 23 at Pohaku Park to Lahaina resident Ernest Kanamu Balinbin, who is a Republican candidate for state House District 10, which includes West Maui, Maalaea and North Kihei.

In an amended complaint filed in Lahaina District Court, Balinbin is also charged with disorderly conduct and two counts of harassment. His arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 12.

Balinbin said he had been at the park for a beach day and was retrieving his coolers, grill, fishing poles and surf gear as the park was closing and people were being told to leave. He said he lives nearby and called his wife to bring the keys for his parked truck.

He was trying to tell park rangers that his wife would be there in a few minutes with the keys and a park ranger swore at him while saying he had to get out of the park, Balinbin said.

“He had pushed me. I had pushed him back,” Balinbin said Friday. “We was going to throw down.

“He was little bit on the more aggressive side,” Balinbin continued. “He had actually put his hands on me and pushed me. That’s how it started for me. I was provoked. I nevah feel like he should have pushed me out of the park. There’s a way to say you got to leave the park.

“We got into an altercation. Had two of them and just one of me. It felt like I was defending myself.”

Police were called and issued the citation, Balinbin said.

“I know I’m a public figure, but I’m also a man,” he said. “I going defend myself.

“It was sad it had to end like that.”

In another case, Haiku resident Gloria Buckingham, who is a per diem or part-time 2nd Circuit judge, was issued a citation alleging violation of public health emergency rules.

A state Department of Land and Natural Resources officer issued the citation April 15, according to court records.

Because of a conflict, the Maui County prosecutor’s office withdrew from the case, and it was handled by the Kauai County prosecutor’s office. On June 10, 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill granted the prosecution’s request to dismiss the case “in the interest of justice,” court records show.

The Kauai County prosecutor’s office and Buckingham couldn’t be reached for comment.

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

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