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Supreme Court reverses disorderly conduct conviction for Maui professor, activist

Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo speaks to a crowd protesting the delivery of large parts for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Aug. 1, 2017 near King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani. In July 2015, Kaeo was arrested for blocking a convoy of trucks transporting components for the telescope to the summit of Haleakala. The Hawaii Supreme Court has reversed a disorderly conduct conviction for Kaeo in the case, saying in an opinion published Wednesday that there wasn’t substantial evidence supporting the conviction. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

The Maui News

The Hawaii Supreme Court has reversed a disorderly conduct conviction for Native Hawaiian activist Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo, who was arrested in 2015 for blocking a convoy of trucks transporting components for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope to the summit of Haleakala.

In an opinion published Wednesday, the court said there wasn’t substantial evidence supporting the conviction.

In the July 2015 protest, Kaeo linked his arms with those of other protesters through the insides of PVC pipes and lay down in front of the convoy as it was leaving the Mokulele Central Baseyard.

At his bench trial in May 2016, the prosecution argued that Kaeo was guilty of disorderly conduct because he had caused “physical inconvenience or alarm by a member or members of the public, or recklessly creating a risk thereof” by blocking the convoy for about three hours as police distenangled him from other chained protesters, according to a news release from his attorney, Hayden Aluli.

Kaeo claimed he didn’t physically inconvenience any member of the public because his conduct was specifically directed at preventing a select group of private individuals, the transport convoy, from leaving the baseyard, the news release said.

The court opinion said that to prove the charge of disorderly conduct, the prosecution had to show that Kaeo acted with the “intent to cause physical inconvenience or alarm by a member or members of the public … “.

But the evidence presented didn’t show inconvenience to anyone other than about 20 convoy workers, the opinion said.

“The convoy workers are not ‘members of the public’ in the ordinary meaning of the term,” according to the opinion.

“They were not part of the ‘community or the people as a whole,’ the opinion said. “They were the subset of people tasked with facilitating the DKIST’s construction. They were the very group Kaeo targeted with his conduct.”

After being convicted and sentenced to pay a $200 fine, Kaeo appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction in a 2-1 decision.

Then he appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to review the case.

In the news release, Kaeo applauded the Supreme Court opinion and said he “hopes to build upon its recognition that peaceful, nonviolent protest against private entities involved in desecrating sacred Hawaiian areas can be conducted lawfully.”

Kaeo, who is an associate professor of humanities at the University of Hawaii Maui College, said the opinion “underscores that Hawaii law enforcement agencies have no fiscal authority to covertly provide free security to a private foreign corporation at the expense of the general public.”

Aluli said, “Kaeo is a 20th century Hawaiian warrior deeply committed to protecting, preserving and perpetuating all of the rights of Hawaiians customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by our ancestors.”

“His conduct of taking that stand in 2015 — by lying down in front of the DKIST convoy — is a testament to that courage and commitment,” Aluli said.

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