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‘A great day’: Judge dismisses remaining cases involving kupuna arrested during TMT protests

The remaining cases involving kupuna arrested in July 2019 for obstructing the Mauna Kea Access Road during TMT protests were dismissed Friday.
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 11:38 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 1, 2022 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The remaining cases involving kupuna arrested in July 2019 for obstructing the Mauna Kea Access Road during Thirty Meter Telescope protests were dismissed Friday.

Hilo District Judge Kanani Laubach issued the decision.

Some 38 kupuna were arrested in the early days of the months-long 2019 protests over the construction of TMT atop Mauna Kea. Previously, one of the kupuna pleaded guilty, one case was dismissed by the prosecution, four were found not guilty and three were found guilty.

The remaining cases were dismissed because defense attorneys argued the complaint was not signed by the complainant ― which is required by statute ― and the judge agreed.

Molokai activist Walter Ritte and his wife, Loretta, were among the defendants whose cases were dismissed Friday. He called the decision a “victory.”

“It’s a great day,” he told Hawaii News Now.

“It was relief. This thing got dragged on for I don’t know how many weeks and months and then COVID came and made it even worse,” he added.

“It was pono prevails after nearly three years being in courts after our arrests on the ala kupuna on Mauna Kea for the purpose of protecting our grounds,” said defendant Launa Palapala Busby Neff.

“We are absolutely are committed to the end our lives. We will stand in protection of our land and hundreds of our people with us,” said defendant Leilani Lindsey-Kaapuni.

The judge decided to dismiss the remaining cases after defense attorneys argued the law enforcement officers did not sign the complaints as required by statute.

“When someone complains that someone committed a crime the complainants are supposed to commit and sign their names behind their allegations,” said attorney Hayden Aluli.

“They would have much rather have preferred to have gone to trial and to have won on the merits of the case,” said attorney Crystal Glendon.

The judge will decide May 6 if the cases will be dismissed with or without prejudice. If dismissed with prejudice, it means the charges cannot be refiled.

“The people who were on the mauna, we’ve said once and we’ll say it many many times, are not criminals,’ said attorney Kelli Ponce.

Richard Sing, attorney for Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, said his client is grateful the charges were dismissed and that the kupuna “can finally move forward with their lives.”

The state Attorney General released a statement late Friday afternoon:

“While disappointing, today’s ruling was not unexpected in light of the recent state supreme court case, State v. Thompson. This decision applies to all complaint cases, not just to these cases, and today’s ruling merely states that the procedure in filing the complaints was flawed, based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation in the Thompson case. They were dismissed on a technical basis and are not rulings on the merits of the cases. The covid pandemic made it difficult to proceed to trial (e.g. high-risk/elderly defendants, inter-island quarantine for witnesses and attorneys) in a timely fashion. To the extent we were able to proceed to trial and litigate the case on its merits, in two separate trials, the judge found 3 defendants broke the law beyond a reasonable doubt on July 17, 2019 when they participated in completely blocking Mauna Kea Access Road to prevent the start of the Thirty Meter Telescope construction. Two other defendants pled guilty. The court has deferred ruling on whether the dismissals will be with or without prejudice, so it is premature to indicate our intentions on how we will proceed, however the Department of the Attorney General remains committed to enforcing and upholding the rule of law.”

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