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Man who entered closed beach not guilty

Accused of violating public health rules

WAILUKU — A man who said he didn’t know a Makena beach was closed when he went hiking and swimming there last year was acquitted of violating public health emergency rules in the pandemic.

A 2nd Circuit Court jury returned verdicts Feb. 4, also finding Jamal Strom not guilty of failing to abide by posted signs designating a closed area.

Strom, 49, of Lahaina asked for a jury trial after he was issued citations for the offenses May 9.

“Law enforcement has been a little bit overly aggressive towards the people of Maui and should issue more warnings, rather than always charging people with crimes,” Deputy Public Defender David Pullman said after the verdicts were announced.

During the trial, state Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officer Wesley Mundy testified that he was using binoculars and saw Strom sitting on the sand at Pu’u Ola’i, also known as Little Beach, in Makena State Park. Under an emergency proclamation by Mayor Michael Victorino, that portion of the park remained closed, while Big Beach and Black Sand Beach were open for access to the ocean and exercise, Mundy said.

He said he recognized Strom from an encounter several weeks earlier when he was inside the closed area and was told that the beach was closed.

A half-hour to 45 minutes after seeing Strom on the beach May 9, Mundy said he issued the citations to Strom while he was in his car, which was parked near the main entrance gate to the park.

Signs were posted on the gate, as well as at the base, middle and top of the access trail to Little Beach, saying that the beach was closed, Mundy said. Another sign was on a fence that was put up “to be conspicuous,” Mundy said.

He said other access paths to the beach also were marked with closure signs.

Taking the most direct route from where he was parked, Strom would have passed eight signs saying Little Beach was closed, Deputy Prosecutor Sally Tobin said in her closing arguments to the jury.

“Normal human nature is to take the path of least resistance, the straightest, efficient path to get where we’re going,” she said. “When a normal, reasonable person comes to a closed and secured gate, they stop.”

On the drive from Lahaina, Strom had passed “dozens of other beaches, dozens of other hiking trails,” Tobin said.

“After driving for almost an hour, he was going to Makena, closed gate be damned,” she said.

Pullman, in his closing argument, said there were no signs when Strom hiked a “beautiful wooded pathway around the cinder cone” to get to the beach.

In May, when Strom was cited, he was at least 50 feet from anyone on the beach and there were few COVID cases on Maui, Pullman said.

He said the trial occurred “with 20-something people in one room for three days during an elevated period of COVID.”

“If they really cared about COVID rather than obedience, they should have dismissed this case,” Pullman said after the verdicts.

“My confidence in the American people has been restored because of this,” Strom said after the trial. “Since when is it a crime for a guy to go to the beach by himself?”

Judge Rhonda Loo presided over the trial, which was the second 2nd Circuit Court jury trial to be held in the pandemic.

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

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