Most Mauna Kea arrestees reject plea deal, citing ‘moral and sacred obligation’

Trial scheduled for December 20
Updated: Nov. 4, 2019 at 6:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - On July 17, the 38 mostly Hawaiian elders arrested at Mauna Kea as part of the Thirty Meter Telescope protest were charged with obstruction of a road.

That’s a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $1,000 fine.

Attorneys say the attorney general offered to reduce the charge to essentially a traffic ticket with a $100 fine.

But most are rejecting the plea deal.

"It's my understanding the overwhelming majority have rejected the plea," said Moani Crowell, an attorney who is representing four of the defendants.

“I’ve heard that there may be a couple people who accepted the plea. I don’t know who they are though,” added Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, who was arrested at Mauna Kea and is one of the leaders of the Kiai, those who consider themselves protectors of Mauna Kea.

She and others believe when the government shut down Mauna Kea Access Road two days before the arrests happened, their religious access was denied.

There are also questions over which government agency has jurisdiction over the road.

"It really is jurisdiction if whether the arrests were even legal given the uncertainty over who's kuleana it is to manage this road," said Wong-Wilson.

"We are not just belligerent Hawaiians, but we have strong feelings. We feel we are right, our right to this mauna," she added.

Attorney Moani Crowell says the 38 defendants are esteemed members of the Hawaiian community.

“These are individuals who have PhDs, who are international scholars, architects and social workers,” she said.

Crowell says her four clients want to appear at the non-jury trial scheduled on December 20 in Hilo because they believe Mauna Kea is sacred.

"It exceeds the depth and breadth of simply a petty misdemeanor and amending it to a violation of a 100 dollar fine. This is a moral and sacred obligation," she said.

The state says TMT has all the permits it needs and the legal right to begin construction.

The attorney general won't comment about the cases, but filed a motion to consolidate so the 38 are set for trial in eight separate groups with four to six defendants per trial.

Attorneys say there are many issues including a right to a trial within 180 days and how long the trials could last as they file motions to dismiss the cases.

There's one elected official in the group, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey. She told Hawaii News Now, she rejected the plea deal.

The legal community is watching how these Mauna Kea cases are proceeding because of all the arrests from recent protests.

In addition to the 38 arrested at Mauna Kea, 28 were arrested at Sherwoods in Waimanalo and more than 127 have been arrested for the Kahuku wind farm. That’s nearly 200 people going through the legal system.

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