Scuffle with police described in hearing

WAILUKU – One police officer testified he was punched in the ribs, and another officer said he was elbowed in the face as they struggled with a suspect last week in a Haiku neighborhood.

“I was telling him to stop resisting,” officer Craig Stephens testified Wednesday. “I don’t recall him saying anything. It happened very fast.”

After wrestling on the ground with the officers, Tomasi Caones-Paahana, 21, managed to break free and ran on South Holokai Road toward Hana Highway, the officers said. He was caught without incident a few hours later in Haiku, police said.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Wailuku District Court, Judge Adrianne Heely ruled there was sufficient evidence to support charges of two counts of first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest against Caones-Paahana.

With the prosecution deciding not to go forward with an escape charge, Heely set bail at $11,000 on the charges. In another case, Caones-Paahana’s bail was set at $41,000 for charges including first-degree burglary and first-degree theft.

The assault case unfolded the afternoon of Feb. 13 when Stephens and officer Rahul Mehra were assigned to investigate a report of suspicious activity involving males going door to door trying to solicit landscaping business near Haloa and South Holokai roads.

Arriving in the area first, Mehra parked his patrol car in front of a white sport utility vehicle that was parked on the shoulder. Two men began getting into the vehicle when Mehra activated the blue lights on his patrol car to initiate a traffic stop.

“They were trying to start their vehicle and get away,” Mehra said. “They seemed nervous and didn’t want to make eye contact.”

When Mehra asked for the names of the occupants, including a woman, the passenger later identified as Caones-Paahana gave a fake name.

On his way to the scene, Stephens heard Mehra checking on whether there were warrants for any of the occupants and recognized the woman’s name as Caones-Paahana’s girlfriend. Stephens called Mehra to tell him that the woman’s boyfriend was wanted on a warrant and an all-points bulletin.

When Stephens arrived, he recognized the passenger who had given another name as Caones-Paahana.

After the officers told Caones-Paahana he was under arrest, he stepped out of the vehicle. Mehra grabbed Caones-Paahana’s left hand and Stephens grabbed the suspect’s right hand while they attempted to handcuff Caones-Paahana, who “started to tense up,” Stephens said.

“I told him, ‘Stop resisting, you’re under arrest,’ ” Stephens said. “We fell to the ground.”

Caones-Paahana was flailing on the ground and swung back his elbow, hitting Stephens in the side of his face, he said. He also felt elbows and knees to his left rib area, Stephens said.

After Caones-Paahana broke free once, Mehra said he chased and tried to tackle the suspect, wrestling with him on the ground. After managing to get out from under Mehra, Caones-Paahana used his left hand to punch the officer three times in his right rib area as they were on their knees facing each other, Mehra testified.

He said Caones-Paahana took an aggressive fighting stance against the officers before Mehra pulled out his Taser. “He turned and ran,” Mehra said.

Stephens said he tried to chase Caones-Paahana but lost sight of him.

“Both of you had hands on him,” defense attorney David Wiltsie said while cross-examining Stephens. “Yet somehow, with two big officers grabbing him, he was able to break free?”

“He was,” Stephens replied.

Caones-Paahana and the vehicle driver, David Leialoha Jr., 20, of Kahului, were charged with first-degree burglary of a residence on South Holokai Road after a laptop stolen from the home Feb. 13 was found when police executed a search warrant for the Ford Explorer they were in, police said.

Leialoha was released after posting $20,000 bail, court records show.

Caones-Paahana also was charged with first-degree theft for allegedly being in possession of some of the jewelry stolen in a Jan. 15 burglary of Maui Master Jewelers on Baldwin Avenue in Makawao.

Police said $52,000 in jewelry was found in a backpack in a car where Caones-Paahana was sleeping Jan. 20 at Maui Marketplace in Kahului.

In court Wednesday, Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth said Caones-Paahana was unemployed and a flight risk.

She said he misrepresented his residence, noting Stephens was told Caones-Paahana no longer lived there when the officer went to the address in Makawao to look for the suspect.

Caones-Paahana is scheduled to be arraigned March 7 in 2nd Circuit Court.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@maui