Two native Hawaiians guilty of hate crime in brutal beating of white man, federal jury finds: ‘You’ve got the wrong f****** color skin’

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A federal jury found two native Hawaiian men guilty of a hate crime in connection with their brutal beating of a white man who was moving into their Maui neighborhood in 2014 with his three daughters — along with his wife, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and forced to retire.

What are the details?

The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday that Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi, 32, and Levi Aki Jr., 33, carried out “racially motivated attacks” on the victim, referred to in the DOJ’s report as “C.K.” The Associated Press identified the victim as Christopher Kunzelman.

The Justice Department said evidence showed the victim purchased a house in Kahakuloa, where various residents harassed and threatened him with statements such as, “This is a Hawaiian village. The only thing coming from the outside is the electricity” and “You don’t even belong in Hawaii.”

The DOJ noted that on February 13, 2014, the victim was unpacking his belongings with his elderly uncle, and the defendants — who’d never met the victim before — “stormed onto his property and demanded that he pack his things and leave.” The DOJ said they threatened to “tie [him] up and drag [him]” and make him “go missing” if he didn’t comply.

When the victim told them he owned the house, Alo-Kaonohi dragged his index finger along the victim’s jaw and told him, “You’ve got the wrong f****** color skin,” the DOJ said.

Aki then picked up a roofing shovel and handed it to Alo-Kaonohi, who struck the victim and caused a bloody wound on the back of the victim’s head, the DOJ said.

Later, when the victim already had begun to pack up his possessions, Alo-Kaonohi and Aki attacked him a second time, the DOJ said, adding that Aki head-butted the victim and hit him in the face with the shovel, knocking him out and causing a concussion.

When the victim regained consciousness, Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were kicking him in the side, the DOJ said, which resulted in two broken ribs.

During that second attack, one of the defendants said, “No white man is ever going to live here,” the DOJ said.

Although the victim recorded the attacks using his phone, the defendants took it from him after he lost consciousness, the DOJ said. The Justice Department did not indicate what happened to the victim’s phone.

However, the DOJ said cameras on the victim’s car “captured critical evidence that corroborated [the victim’s] account.”

United States Attorney Clare E. Connors said that “the jury’s verdict confirms that the rule of law serves to protect all persons in our community from vicious assaults, no matter the color of their skin. When people commit violent crimes against someone out of hatred for the victim’s race, the Department of Justice will ensure they face criminal consequences in a court of law.”

Now what?

The DOJ said the hate crime conviction against Alo-Kaonohi and Aki carries a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars. United States District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered Alo-Kaonohi and Aki detained in custody pending their sentencing, set for March 2, 2023. The DOJ said sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

How did the Associated Press report it?

The AP’s report on the hate crime convictions differed in numerous respects from the Justice Department’s account.

The AP story highlighted in its third paragraph emotional reactions from family members of Alo-Kaonohi and Aki, presumably as “marshals moved to handcuff the two men after the verdict was announced.” The AP said family members and supporters “wept in the courtroom and called out to the men: ‘I love you,’ and ‘Be good.’” The outlet added that Alo-Kaonohi’s son Kahue, 3, said, “God bless you Daddy.”

The AP also called it an “unusual move” for the DOJ to take the hate crime route.

More from the outlet:

Alo-Kaonohi previously pleaded no contest to felony assault in state court and was sentenced to probation, while Aki pleaded no contest to terroristic threatening and was sentenced to probation and nearly 200 days in jail. The federal trial was held separately, to determine if they were guilty of a hate crime. It’s unclear why it took so long for U.S. prosecutors to pursue hate crime charges.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki did not deny the assault but said it was not a hate crime. It was not race that sparked the attack, they said, but Kunzelman’s entitled and disrespectful attitude.

The men were upset that Kunzelman cut locks to village gates, their attorneys said. Kunzelman said he did so because residents were locking him in and out. He testified that he wanted to provide the village with better locks and distribute keys to residents.

Recordings: AP v. DOJ

Here’s how the AP reported on what was recorded:

Kunzelman testified that while Alo-Kaonohi and Aki beat him, they told him no white people would ever live in Kahakuloa village. However, he acknowledged that’s not heard in video recorded during the attack.

Kunzelman said he decided to take two pistols to Maui after hearing that a contractor he hired to do mold remediation had been assaulted when he showed up and after his realtor said the close-knit community of Native Hawaiians had a problem with white people.

He also installed cameras on his vehicle, which were on during the attack. The vehicle was parked under the house and recorded images of what was happening downstairs, including Aki pacing with a shovel on his shoulder. The video only captured audio from the assault, which took place upstairs.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi an Aki told jurors the video shows that they didn’t use any racial slurs.

Here’s the DOJ’s previously noted version: “Although the victim had recorded the attacks using his phone, the defendants took it from him after he lost consciousness. Cameras on the victim’s car, however, captured critical evidence that corroborated [the victim’s] account.”

Racial language

The AP also devoted quite a bit of space explaining the Hawaiian term “haole” — which was used against Kunzelman — and saying it can mean a “foreign and white person.” The AP said Aki was heard saying, “You’s a haole, eh,” but that defense attorneys said he didn’t use the word in a derogatory way.

“It’s not a hate crime to assault somebody and in the course of it use the word ‘haole,’” court-appointed attorney Lynn Panagakos said during her opening statement, according to the AP, which added that she said Aki is part Hawaiian and part haole.

“‘Haole’ has multiple meanings depending on the context,” she also said, the outlet reported. “It’s an accepted word.”

The AP also took note of Alo-Kaonohi’s father, Chico Kaonohi, who was “wiping away tears outside the courthouse following the verdict” and saying there was no racial bias: “‘Haole’ is not a racial word.”

Chico Kaonohi added that “where we come from, we’re not racial people. It wasn’t about race,” the AP said.

In addition, the AP didn’t note in its story the following statements the DOJ said were uttered to the victim:

  • “This is a Hawaiian village. The only thing coming from the outside is the electricity.”
  • “You don’t even belong in Hawaii.”
  • The defendants threatening to “tie [him] up and drag [him]” and make him “go missing” if he didn’t pack up and leave.
  • “You’ve got the wrong f****** color skin.”

The AP did report that the victim’s wife “loved the island,” that Kunzelman testified that he and his family never got to live in the home, and that they now live in Puerto Rico.

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