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Census taker absolved of trespassing charge

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The Hawaii County prosecutor’s office agreed yesterday to dismiss a trespassing charge against a census worker who had been arrested after a Puna resident refused to participate in the survey.

The county also said it will cooperate with the U.S. Census Bureau to prevent similar situations in the future.

"We came to the conclusion that this was the better way to resolve this," said Kevin Hashizaki, deputy county prosecutor.

Big Island police arrested census taker Russell J. Haas, 57, on March 10 at a home in Puna after the resident, an off-duty police officer, declined to answer questions and asked him to leave the property.

The resident called police, who arrested him for trespassing. "I tried to explain it to them. They didn’t want to hear it. They told me to get the hell out of there," Haas said yesterday.

Haas had been charged with second-degree criminal trespass, a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $1,000 fine.

"I hope this never happens to any other census worker, any place, any time," Haas said.

A federal judge in Honolulu dismissed the case, which had been transferred from state court, yesterday.

Hashizaki said continuing to prosecute the case would have required bringing four to five witnesses to Oahu yesterday for a hearing to oppose dismissal of the charge. And if the county was successful, those witnesses would be brought back to Oahu for trial.

"We’re very happy that this was resolved the way it was," said Jamey Christy, Los Angeles regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau. "We learned a lot." Christy said he believes local authorities also learned a lot.

Christy said guidance and procedures for census workers are scripted and that they are the same for census workers across the country. He said there might be room for adjustment for each location.

He also said a way to prevent such incidents is for census officials to have discussions with local officials in advance.

That would include meetings with county police chiefs, said Larry L. Butrick, assistant U.S. attorney.

Haas said he had been working the Puna area for at least a month when police arrested him. He continued collecting census data after his arrest.

 

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