Plea deal is offered to arrested TMT protesters

  • Law enforcement arrested kupuna who barricaded Maunakea Access Road in opposition to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope in July. (PHOTO BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL/Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

  • Donna Leong is rolled into a van after being arrested on Maunakea Access Road in July. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Law enforcement arrested kupuna who barricaded Maunakea Access Road in opposition to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. (PHOTO BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL/Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

HILO — The state Attorney General’s Office has offered a plea deal to protesters who were arrested in July for blocking Maunakea Access Road that would dispose of their cases if each pays a $100 fine.

It is unclear how many of the activists who were arrested during protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope will accept the deal, which would reduce the petty misdemeanor charges against them to violations.

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Petty misdemeanors are punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, while violations carry smaller fines and no jail time.

The access road has been closed since July 15, and the 39 anti-TMT activists were arrested July 17 for blocking the roadway in an effort to prevent construction vehicles from reaching the summit area to begin site work on the telescope project. Most of the protesters were charged with obstructing a public roadway.

The protesters regard construction of TMT as a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred, and say they will not allow the telescope to be built.

But supporters of TMT say the telescope sponsors spent a decade seeking the necessary permits and permissions from the state and county, and the project now has a legal right to proceed.

The July 17 arrests of Hawaiian seniors on the access road helped to galvanize the anti-TMT movement, and thousands of telescope opponents have massed on Maunakea Access Road at times. Protesters have now been camping on the road or at a nearby camp Puu Huluhulu for more than three months.

The protests have also spread to other islands. Police estimate 12,000 to 15,000 people marched through Waikiki on Oct. 5 in support of the protests on the mountain, and protesters in Waimanalo and Kahuku have used nonviolent tactics similar to the anti-TMT activists during demonstrations in those communities.

Most of the protesters appeared Friday in Hilo District Court, and Judge M. Kanani Laubach consolidated the cases into eight groups of defendants. Laubach scheduled trials for each of the groups for Dec. 20, but the trials likely will continue into next year.

Deputy Attorney General Landon Murata, who is prosecuting the activists, declined to discuss the plea offer and referred questions to Krishna F. Jayaram, special assistant to Attorney General Clare Connors.

Jayaram said in a written statement that “since this is an ongoing prosecution we have nothing to share at this time.”

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Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the protest leaders who was arrested July 17, said she is not inclined to accept the plea agreement, but said she has until Friday to make a final decision.

“If I feel that we can prevail on the merits of the case, and for me personally, I think I would rather do that, ” she said.

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