Native Hawaiian men found guilty of hate crime against a white man in Maui

‘It’s nothing personal, you just have the wrong f***ing color skin’: Native Hawaiian men are found guilty of a hate crime for viciously beating a white man who bought a home in their remote Maui neighborhood

  • Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. were found guilty of a hate crime after assaulting Christopher Kunzelman in 2014
  • Kunzelman was left with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma
  • US District Judge ordered Alo-Kaonohi and Aki to be detained pending sentencing scheduled for March 2
  • The state chose to forego hate crime charges but the US Department of Justice sought to pursue them in December 2020
  • Kunzelman released footage of the attack in which one of the men can be heard saying: ‘It’s nothing personal’ 
  • Victim claims during the attack one man also said: ‘You have the wrong skin color’

Two native Hawaiian men have been found guilty of a hate crime after a white man was beaten with a shovel while renovating his new home in a remote Maui neighborhood.

Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr were detained Thursday pending sentencing on March 2 over the sickening 2014 assault in which they told the victim he ‘had the wrong color skin.’ 

Family members and supporters wept in the courtroom calling out ‘I love you’ and ‘be good,’ while Alo-Kaonohi’s son Kahue, 3, said ‘God bless you daddy’ after U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright delivered his verdict.

Christopher Kunzelman, who bought the property after a Hawaiian woman visited him in a dream, was left with a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma after the brutal attack. 

Alo-Kaonohi and Aki punched, kicked and used a shovel to beat Kunzelman, who had purchased the foreclosed house in their home village of Kahakuloa.

Video footage from the incident released by Kunzelman after the attack shows the men arriving at his home one pacing outside with a shovel. 

In the footage shared online, one of the men can be heard saying ‘it’s not personal’.

Talking to khon2 in 2019 Kunzelman said he tried to reason with both the men but they told him that he ‘had the wrong color skin.’

Alo Kaonohi

Levi Aki Jr

 Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi (left) and Levi Aki Jr. (right) have been found guilty of a hate crime after assaulting white man, Christopher Kunzelman, in 2014

Kunzelman released surveillance footage of the 2014 attack which showed the men yelling at him and saying that the incident 'wasn't personal' but he had the 'wrong color skin'

Kunzelman released surveillance footage of the 2014 attack which showed the men yelling at him and saying that the incident ‘wasn’t personal’ but he had the ‘wrong color skin’

‘I said, ‘let’s talk about this, let’s communicate but they weren’t interested in that,’ he explained.

‘They were there to deliver a message, they were there to evict me from my own house.’

Kunzelman had moved to Maui for his wife who loved the island from Scottsdale, Arizona, after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He said a Hawaiian woman told him in a dream to buy the dilapidated oceanfront house, which he and his wife purchased, unseen, for $175,000 after finding the listing online.

The pair never got to live in the home and he now resides in Puerto Rico after the attack.  

‘They started explaining to me why I was being evicted and they started explaining to me it was because I had the wrong color skin,’ said Kunzelman.

‘At one point he even said, ‘You seem like a nice guy, but you’re the wrong color for this place.

Kunzelman said that while Alo-Kaonohi was beating him up he told him, ‘You have the wrong skin color, no white man is ever going to live here.’

He said the attacker continued to say: ‘We’re the law, we’re the police, the police have our backs, we’re the ones who make the laws, we’re the ones who enforce the laws, we’re the judge in Kahakuloa, and we’re the ones who decide if you live or die.’

At the time of the incident the state chose to forego hate crime charges, instead charging both men with assault.

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.

But in December 2020, the US Department of Justice sought to prosecute Alo-Kaonohi and Aki, securing a federal grand jury indictment, charging each with a hate crime count punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Kunzelman was left with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma, prosecutors told the US District Court in Honolulu

Kunzelman was left with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma, prosecutors told the US District Court in Honolulu

US District Judge ordered Alo-Kaonohi and Aki to be detained pending sentencing scheduled for March 2 after the 2014 assault which saw Kunzelman sent to hospital (pictured)

US District Judge ordered Alo-Kaonohi and Aki to be detained pending sentencing scheduled for March 2 after the 2014 assault which saw Kunzelman sent to hospital (pictured) 

The federal trial was held separately, to determine if they were guilty of a hate crime but it’s unclear why it took so long for US prosecutors to pursue the charges.

Local attorneys told AP they had never heard of the federal government prosecuting Native Hawaiians for hate crimes before this case.

On Thursday afternoon, the multiracial jury unanimously agreed that both men attacked Kunzelman because of the color of his skin.

Defense attorneys for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki argued that they weren’t racially motivated but took offence at Kunzelman’s ‘entitlement and disrespect.’

The court heard that the men were upset that Kunzelman cut locks to village gates, however Kunzelman explained 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.

During the trial, 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 was parked under the house and recorded images of encounter, 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 they didn’t use racial slurs.

The term ‘Haole,’ a Hawaiian word with meanings that include foreign and white person, was central to the case.

A multiracial jury unanimously agreed that both men attacked Kunzelman because of the color of his skin

A multiracial jury unanimously agreed that both men attacked Kunzelman because of the color of his skin

Kunzelman bought his dilapidated oceanfront house, in Kahakuloa Village for $175,000 after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He never lived there and now lives in Puerto Rico

Kunzelman bought his dilapidated oceanfront house, in Kahakuloa Village for $175,000 after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He never lived there and now lives in Puerto Rico

At one point Aki is heard in the video saying, ‘You’s a haole, eh,’ using a Hawaiian word that can mean white person. 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. She noted that Aki is part-Hawaiian and part-haole.

”Haole’ has multiple meanings depending on the context. It’s an accepted word.’

Megan Kau, a Native Hawaiian attorney not involved in the case, said it depends on the tone and manner in which the word is used.

‘These Native Hawaiians who live in a secluded, very traditional community who use the term ‘haole’ to describe people that are not from Hawaii — that’s the term that they use,’ she said.

‘We all very often use the term ‘haole.’ It’s not derogatory unless you use it in a derogatory sense.’

Outside the courtroom Alo-Kaonohi’s father, Chico Kaonohi, reiterated that ”Haole’ is not a racial word.’

‘Where we come from, we’re not racial people,’ Kaonohi, said.

‘It wasn’t about race.’

US Attorney Clare E Connors said that the jury’s verdict reaffirms that the ‘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,’ she added.

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