HONOLULU — A white man who says he was a victim of a hate crime when two Native Hawaiian men assaulted him while he was fixing up a home he purchased in their remote Maui village testified Wednesday that his attackers were racially motivated, even though he conceded that no racist comments can be heard in video taken during the 2014 beating.
Christopher Kunzelman said the men beat him and told him no white people would ever live in Kahakuloa village — a comment that’s not heard in the footage. Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. are on trial for one federal count each of a hate crime. Their defense attorneys don’t deny the assault, but say their actions were motivated by Kunzelman’s entitled and disrespectful attitude — not his race.
Alo-Kaonohi and Aki punched, kicked and used a shovel to beat Kunzelman, leaving him with injuries including a concussion, two broken ribs and head and abdominal trauma, U.S. prosecutors said.
Under questioning by Salina Kanai, a federal defender for Alo-Kaonohi, Kunzelman acknowledged that the men were enraged about Kunzelman earlier cutting locks on village gates but made no mention of his race.
“He’s not talking about your skin color, he’s not talking about your race,” Kanai said of Alo-Kaonohi, who is heard in the video calling him “brah” and “buddy.”
Kanai said Alo-Kaonohi, during an expletive-laced tirade about the locks, didn’t call Kunzelman a “haole,” a Hawaiian word that can mean white person.
Kunzelman responded, “Correct, not yet.”
More than five minutes into the incident, which was recorded by cameras on Kunzelman’s vehicle parked under the house, there was only one utterance of anything racial, Kanai said.
“You’s a haole, eh,” Aki said in the recording.
The video shows what is happening downstairs, including Aki pacing with a shovel on his shoulder. The video captures the sound coming from upstairs, where Kunzelman said he was beaten, but not any images.
What’s not audible in the video is the men calling him “haole” in a derogatory way and threatening to shoot him with his own gun, even though they were shouting, Kunzelman said.
Kunzelman testified that he and his wife decided to move to Maui from Scottsdale, Arizona, after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He said his wife loved the island.
A Hawaiian woman visited him in his dreams and told him to buy the dilapidated oceanfront house, he said, which he and his wife purchased sight unseen for $175,000 after coming across a listing for it online.