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Hawaiʻi Supreme Court overturns Maui telescope protest conviction

Inouye Solar Telescope haleakala
NSF’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope sits near the summit of Haleakalā in Maui, Hawaiʻi.

WAILUKU, Hawaiʻi — The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court has overturned a disorderly conduct conviction of a Native Hawaiian activist who blocked a construction convoy heading for the summit of Maui's Haleakalā volcano to build a solar telescope.

The court said there wasn't substantial evidence to support the conviction of Samuel Kaleikoa Kaʻeo.

In July 2015, Kaʻeo and other protesters linked their arms inside PVC pipes and laid down in front of the convoy.

Kaʻeo said he didn’t physically inconvenience any member of the public because his conduct was specifically directed at preventing a select group of private individuals from leaving a baseyard.

The court said that to prove the charge of disorderly conduct, the prosecution had to show that Kaʻeo acted with the “intent to cause physical inconvenience or alarm by a member or members of the public.“

But the evidence presented didn’t show inconvenience to anyone other than about 20 convoy workers, said the opinion published on Dec. 29, Associate Justice Todd W. Eddins wrote the unanimous ruling.

“The convoy workers are not ‘members of the public’ in the ordinary meaning of the term,” the opinion said.

Construction of the telescope went ahead. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope released its first images in 2020.

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