The next chapter in the takeover of a parcel of land in central Oahu by Hawaiians claiming ancestral rights to the property by “heirdom” played out on Friday when dozens of Honolulu police and state sheriffs moved in to enforce a court order and evict the group that had illegally occupied the site for more than nine months.
Police arrested nine people at the scene while others, mostly women and children, left voluntarily to avoid arrest after being given a final warning.
But despite the eviction, arrests and adverse court rulings, this is unlikely to be the final chapter, as members of the group defiantly cling to baseless claims to be rightful owners of the land.
Those arrested in Friday’s sweep ranged in age from 26 to 67 years old, according to a Honolulu Police Department official log of arrests.
Travis Thomas “Kealii” Mokiao was the first to be arrested at 7:30 a.m., followed by Lance Ventura-Wong at 8:20, and four others minutes later — Morris Hicks, Anela Lopes, Kekoa Lopes Torres and Kaiulani Pieper-Mokiao.
Several hours later, between noon and 1 p.m., three more were arrested — Terrence Gomez , 56, Dember Afong, 67, and David Richard Lopes, 65.
All except Gomez were arrested for second-degree criminal trespass, a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Gomez was cited only for driving without a license.
Several, including Hicks, Ventura-Wong, Travis Mokiao and Kaiulani Pieper-Mokiao, were cited for the additional offense of resisting arrest, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Finally, Pieper-Mokiao was also cited for endangering the welfare of a minor, also a misdemeanor.
Two members of the group, Travis Thomas Mokiao and Kaiulani Pieper-Mokiao, claim to have a lawful, inherited and “superior” title to the property as descendants of the original land grant recipient in the years following the Great Mahele of 1848.
However, the legally recognized property owner sued and, after several delays, won a judgment against the group. A “Writ of Possession” was signed last month by Circuit Court Judge James McWhinnie, directing sheriffs, police and other law enforcement officers to “permanently and forever remove” the group and any supporters, along with any personal possessions, from the property.
The disputed land was part of 203 acres in Kunia, above Waipahu, purchased in May 2018 for $8 million by Guyland LLC, wholly owned by California real estate investor Guy Fong, who quickly began developing the 38-lot Ekaha Lands agricultural subdivision.
The group first claimed a 5-acre parcel identified as Lot 19, and later expanded to eventually occupy 30 acres in the agricultural subdivision, which borders the 136-acre Hawaii Country Club golf course, taking over and ousting the previous lessee, which is described in court documents as “the designated grower for thirty-nine medical marijuana card holders.”
The court record has been mostly silent about whether existing marijuana plants were seized in the takeover, although the original lawsuit brought on behalf of Guyland alleged property confiscated by the group included the lessee’s “crops, equipment, medical marijuana registry, and other physical property.”
An initial confrontation between the landowner and the group of squatters took place in early October, when agents for Guyland and the company that had been leasing the property were prevented from entering to inspect the property. Several other confrontations followed while Guyland’s lawsuit made its way through the legal process, with police being repeatedly summoned to the site.
Once in court, the Mokiaos failed to present evidence to challenge Guyland’s legally recognized chain of title, or explain how their claim of an inherited interest might have survived multiple prior sales and transfers going back more than 170 years.
Instead, they filed papers in court which, they say, document their genealogy, which are largely irrelevant to determining the rightful current title holder, with additional filings heavy on pseudo-legalistic but baseless arguments apparently modeled after similar documents used by extremist anti-government groups and so-called “sovereign citizens” on the U.S. mainland.
In fact, the Mokiaos failed to appear at crucial court hearings and were declared to have defaulted, handing the legal victory to Guyland. McWhinnie ruled against the group’s claim and granted the landowner’s motion for summary judgment in early May, and last month issued the “Writ of Possession” directing law enforcement agencies to clear the area.
At least three members of the group, including Travis Mokiao, claim to be “lawful military combatants” and members of the group calling itself Occupied Forces Hawaii Army, a self-described uniformed military force in a non-combatant mission on behalf of the “Country of Hawaii.”
After copies of OFHA “orders” dispatching two members to support and defend those taking part in the land seizure were filed in court, Occupied Forces Hawaii Army was named as a defendant in Guyland’s lawsuit.
Continued False Claims
Travis Mokiao was the most articulate and vocal in this and earlier confrontations when police have been called to the occupation site.
On Friday morning, Mokiao made a live recording of himself as he drove to the site after getting word that police had arrived. In the video, which was later publicly posted on Facebook, Mokiao falsely claimed the police had no authority to remove individuals from the property because “we are still in court and it is a civil dispute.”
This was echoed in a social media post by Napua Hueu, who holds the rank of captain within Occupied Forces Hawaii Army and has frequently been a spokesperson for the group, which again claimed that the legal dispute is ongoing.
In fact, McWhinnie had already granted Guyland’s motion for summary judgment two months ago, and signed the writ of possession last month, clearing the way for the eviction.
Once arriving on the scene, Mokiao can be heard on the video telling police, “we are here to tell you folks to leave the private property … The statutes are not enforceable on private property.”
Mokiao also shouted out that he and the others could not be ejected or arrested because they were simply engaged in traditional and customary Hawaiian practices protected by state law and by the Hawaii Constitution.
“Everything you see right now is traditional and customary practice,” Mokiao told the officers, “and yet you feel so entitled to deprive us of these things.”
This new reference to traditional and customary practices is in stark contrast to Mokiao’s repeated claims that the area is their private property because they have “superior title.”
And while state court decisions have protected the right of Hawaiians to access undeveloped land for traditional and customary practices for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes, these rights are not open ended, are subject to state regulation, and do not extend to developed land.
There appears to be no legal authority for the notion that the right to take part in “customary and traditional practices” can be used to justify the complete takeover of private property owned by another party, and the issue was never raised during the course of Guyland’s eviction lawsuit.
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Ian Lind is an award-winning investigative reporter and columnist who has been blogging daily for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a newsletter publisher, public interest advocate and lobbyist for Common Cause in Hawaii, peace educator, and legislative staffer. Lind is a lifelong resident of the islands. Read his blog here. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.