8 arrested for squatting in Puna, but do Hawaiian sovereignty claims hold up?

Hawaii Island police arrested eight people for illegally squatting in a Puna home while claiming Hawaiian sovereignty rights.

After an extended effort by a realtor to remove former tenants and others from a foreclosed home on Kapalai Road in Kurtistown, state sheriffs served an eviction notice on July 25 on the persons squatting in one of two homes on the property.

Several of the adults present were confrontational, refusing to identify themselves, but all 12 people (adults and children) left the property with their belongings. The realtor later changed the locks on the doors.

On Aug. 5, police conducted a check of the house in response to information that it appeared one of the homes had been reoccupied after the eviction. Police observed a woman outside the house who immediately went inside, secured the door and refused to come out, arguing that she had Hawaiian sovereignty rights allowing occupancy of the house and property.

Police overheard other persons inside the house and advised the occupants that they would be returning.

On Friday, Aug. 14, police arrived and surrounded the structure, prepared to force entry into the home if necessary. The occupants voluntarily opened the door and all eight adults were arrested but refused to be fingerprinted or photographed, claiming Hawaiian sovereignty.

No children were present. The Humane Society was contacted to remove seven dogs from the property.

The following persons were arrested and charged with first-degree criminal trespassing:

  • Tiana Kaniaupio, 19
  • Sarah Kanuha, 35
  • Herman Elderts Jr., 37
  • Shaun Kanuha, 40
  • Victoria Elderts, 58
  • Herman Elderts Sr., 65
  • William Elderts, 73
  • Barbara Elderts, 83

Bail was set for each at $1,000.

“Is there anything in our laws that allows for that in any way, shape or form?” KHON2 asked Terence O’Toole, managing director for Starn, O’Toole, Marcus and Fisher.

“No, and I think the context of it is important too, which is that here is land where apparently a lender had come in and foreclosed, so in all events tenants who would have been in any kind of property like that, once the foreclosure occurs, the interest of the landowners is gone and that goes for anybody who’s renting,” he said.

O’Toole says there is no legal basis that would give the squatters the right to remain on the property and that includes claiming Hawaiian sovereignty rights.

“Just like everything else, while there are sovereignty movements out there, if that was ever to occur that would be laws that would somehow have to supersede laws of the state and laws of the United States, that’s just not a winning argument,” he said.

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