Christian Gutierrez pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to animal cruelty and theft, among other charges, in the alleged slaughter of more than a dozen state and federally protected seabirds a year ago at Kaena Point.
The 19-year-old Punahou School graduate was represented by Honolulu defense attorney Myles Breiner during his brief arraignment before Circuit Judge Colette Garibaldi.
Two other people have also been charged in the killings of the Laysan albatrosses and the theft of seabird monitoring cameras and sound equipment valued at $3,100. But those cases are being handled confidentially in family court because they were minors at the time.
The attacks occurred almost exactly a year ago — late Dec. 27 or early Dec. 28, 2015, at Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve on the west side of Oahu.
Breiner has said Gutierrez, now a sophomore at New York University, was camping with his classmates there that night but did not harm any seabirds.
Gutierrez turned himself in earlier this month soon after being charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty, theft, criminal property damage and engaging in a prohibited act in a state nature preserve.
Breiner spent time before the arraignment fussing over the attendance of Keith Swindle of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, confronting Swindle and later taking a photo of him.
He asked Garibaldi to force Swindle to leave, arguing that he is a potential witness in the case and should therefore be excluded from the hearing. The judge denied his motion, siding with Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa.
Swindle is listed on the agency’s website as resident agent in charge of the Hawaii and Pacific Islands section of its Office of Law Enforcement. He has devoted years to seabird recovery projects in Hawaii, including efforts to protect Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels.
The birds can live more than 60 years and mostly nest in Hawaii, with Kaena Point serving as a primary nesting site on Oahu.
The Honolulu Police Department, state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together on the investigation, which was launched within a couple days of the incident thanks to a report by a concerned citizen.
A site visit found 15 of the 75 active nests were destroyed, eggs were smashed and a dozen of the adult albatrosses were missing. Three dead albatrosses were found and taken for necropsy.
DLNR Chair Suzanne Case has described the incident as “disturbing violence” and urged the community to help ensure “safe and responsible conduct” in the area.
Federal penalties are up to $15,000 per incident and up to one year in prison, while state penalties include fines up to $10,000 for the incident and up to $5,000 per animal harmed.
The trial was set for Feb. 27.
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