When a knife is a machete and when a scolding is a threat

Arecent sentencing in 5th Circuit Court presented issues of family and cultural dynamics, but in the end the judge said the threatening actions of the defendant weighed more than any circumstantial arguments.

A 71-year-old Lihue man received a one-year probation and five days jail for wielding a machete while making threats at a family event. It occurred during an argument with siblings that started during a gathering for the passing of their mother.

As the eldest sibling, the defendant lived at the residence and cared for his mother until her passing. He is retired and enjoyed a successful career in the visitor industry, where he was honored for exemplary service. He also served in the military.

The family get-together was at the defendant’s residence, where according to his attorney, he was scaling fish with a knife when a younger sister chastised him for picking up food without a utensil. She used foul language, he said, and so he raised his hand to shush her because there were children nearby.

Because he was holding a scaling knife in the same hand, the defendant said his sister mistook that as a threat. He went to sit in the garage and was surprised when police arrived to arrest him.

The defendant pleaded no contest to misdemeanor third-degree terroristic threatening in April. Felony first-degree terroristic threatening charges were dropped in the agreement.

The deputy prosecutor said the police report differs from the defendant’s account. The report does say he was upset about being chastised for not using a fork, but he left the house and was making threats while holding a machete in the driveway.

When someone took the blade, he said he would come back with a gun, the prosecutor said. He threatened to cause bodily injury to four different individuals.

“There is clear intent and the defendant demonstrates a lack of control over his rage,” the prosecutor said.

Despite this, the prosecutor said the lack of criminal history and statements from family make it unlikely that the defendant will reoffend. The state recommended 14 days jail to emphasize the seriousness of his actions with children present.

The children were traumatized after being shuffled around to different rooms by adults who locked them behind doors fearing for their safety, the prosecutor said.

The defense attorney said the story is full of the same drama he finds in the Filipino soap operas he watches with his spouse.

The defendant may have raised a knife but it was to emphasize he was upset and was not meant as a threat, he said.

This was further demonstrated when a larger brother-in-law put the defendant in a bear hug to get him to drop the knife. He was upset and told him he would come back with a gun, when he didn’t actually own or possess a gun, he added.

Judge Kathleen Watanabe said the defendant’s story differs from what was stated in the police report. She said that when the accounts differ so much, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

Watanabe said she is part Filipino American and dislikes stereotyping. She said it was troublesome to hear the incident portrayed in circumstances that make light of making threats in anger while holding a knife.

The court granted a motion to defer acceptance of the plea for the duration of a one-year probation. He was also ordered to complete an anger management course and undergo a substance abuse assessment.

• Island Crime Beat is a weekly column that reflects on the current events and issues regarding the police, courts and criminal justice system of Kaua‘i.

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