A man is pleading for victims of hate crimes to step forward after he was brutally attacked in his Maui home five years ago.
February 13, 2014, was Christopher Kunzelman’s first night in his new home in Kahakuloa village.
He said his wife decided to move to Maui after she was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis.
“I asked her where she wanted to spend the last days of her life and she said 7478 Kahekili Highway, she found it on the internet and she knew where she wanted to go spend her last days,” Kunzelman said.
“Maui was her favorite place on earth,” he said.
He and his uncle moved in the first pieces of furniture that day. His wife and daughters were still on the mainland waiting for the house to be reconstructed.
It was around sunset time when Kunzelman and his uncle noticed two men walking towards the home from the beach.
“Something about the way they were walking just gave me chills, I knew they were there for bad reasons,” Kunzelman said.
He said he grabbed his gun and hid it in his belt.
He started recording the argument between the men and his uncle near the front door.
The two men, later identified Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. ask Kunzelman’s uncle “who owns this place.”
He replies: “No, my nephew bought this place.”
The men ask where his nephew is.
Chris appears and tells the men they are trespassing on his property.
They ask Chris and his uncle who they are and tell them, “Who the (explicit) gave you the right to come around here?”
Alo-Kaonohi and Aki Jr. tell Kunzelman to pack his stuff and leave.
When he starts doing so, he said Alo-Kaonohi started punching him in the face.
Aki Jr. then brought him a shovel and Alo-Kaonohi hit Kunzelman’s head with the shovel.
While he was packing upstairs, the uncle remained downstairs with Aki Jr. Kunzelman said Alo-Kaonohi would come upstairs and keep beating him up.
Aki Jr. looks at Kunzelman’s uncle and says, “You guys don’t belong here,” and continues to tell them to leave.
“Or else you guys are going to go missing I swear to God,” Aki Jr. tells the uncle.
“I said, ‘let’s talk about this, let’s communicate but they weren’t interested in that. They were there to deliver a message, they were there to evict me from my own house,” Kunzelman explains.
“They started explaining to me why I was being evicted and they started explaining to me it was because I had the wrong color skin,” he said.
“At one point he even said, ‘You seem like a nice guy, but you’re the wrong color for this place,” Kunzelman said Alo-Kaonohi said to him.
Kunzelman said that while Alo-Kaonohi was beating him up he told him, “You have the wrong skin color, no white man is ever going to live here. We’re the law, we’re the police, the police have our backs, we’re the ones who make the laws, we’re the ones who enforce the laws, we’re the judge in Kahakuloa, and we’re the ones who decide if you live or die.”
According to Kunzelman, the men kept telling them that they were going to be cut up and fed to the fish.
“Every single comment had haole and the F word,” Kunzelman said.
Kunzelman said he thought about the gun in his belt for the 20 minutes he was being beaten.
“Do I kill these men to protect my own life? Or do I lay down my own life to allow these strangers to live?” Kunzelman said.
“I didn’t know which decision I was going to make so I was pleading with them ‘please, please, please, because I didn’t know, for their sake, how it was going to turn out,” he said.
He decided to throw the gun in the weeds nearby.
Kunzelman said Aki Jr. hit him over the head with the shovel again and he was beaten unconscious by the men.
Then, others who were nearby watched and joined.
“The whole time I was like, ‘This is what it feels like to be a victim of a hate crime and also this is what it feels like to die.’”
While he was lying there he said he felt the men go through his pockets, taking his money, phone, car keys and a 10 round magazine he had for his gun.
“The one that pulled it out of my pocket said, ‘Let’s go get his gun and we’ll kill him and his uncle with his own gun,” Kunzelman said. “The other said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”
While two of the men went to look for the gun, Kunzelman was able to grab a spare key and jump into his car.
As he was leaving, he asked for his uncle who jumped into the car and closed the door at the exact moment they say Aki Jr. smashed the passenger window with a shovel, shattering the glass over Kunzelman’s uncle’s face.
As he started driving away, another man started attacking from the driver’s side trying to turn the steering wheel.
But that was only the start of Kunzelman’s problems.
While at the hospital, he said a Maui police officer asked him what happened.
“I kept telling the officer this is what they were saying, they were saying no white person would live there, they were beating me up specifically for my skin color and at one point they said, ‘nothing personal,’ and you can hear it clearly on the video,” Kunzelman said.
“The police officer refused to write down anything about race, nothing.”
Kunzelman said he told the officer the whole reason for the attack, as the men explained it, was because of race.
“He was uninterested in writing anything down about it being a hate crime,” Kunzelman said.
Kunzelman said MPD decided to bury the case.
“They weren’t going to charge these men and they were going to bury the evidence.”
After not hearing back from officers, Kunzelman went to a community meeting in Kihei and approached the then- Maui police chief.
He said he told the chief he was attacked at his home because of the color of his skin. “I was a victim of a hate crime and your police officers will not call me back,” Kunzelman said.
He said because of MPD’s delay that Alo Kaonohi was able to commit another crime, this time at the Steel Horse Saloon.
“There was a complete stranger to Kaulana who was having dinner with a friend and he got tapped on his shoulder, turned, and he got sucker-punched [by Kaulana], and passed out immediately,” Kunzelman explained.
“He suffered 16 more blows to his face when he was unconscious which caused bleeding in his brain and caused permanent brain damage.”
Kunzelman said the original prosecuting attorney on the case was determined to put both Alo-Kaonohi and Aki Jr. away and would refuse anything less than prison time.
But then, a new prosecuting attorney was put on the case and cut a plea deal with the two men.
“He immediately gave them five year’s probation as a plea deal and they walked for what they did to me,” Kunzelman said.
He said the victim from the Steel Horse Saloon, whom he speaks with from time to time, is horrified by what happened and has been adversely affected by Alo-Kaonohi.
Kunzelman was not happy to hear both men would be let go for what had happened.
“I just wanted justice, and I don’t know if every victim wants justice but I wanted justice,” he said.
“The citizens of Maui pay for police, prosecuting attorney, investigators, screening department, judge, they are spending tax dollars all the time because they want criminals off their streets and yet the court system just fails them,” he said.
He said the real “travesty” is the permanent damage of the Steel Horse Saloon victim.
He pleaded to the camera, “If you were a victim of a hate crime on Maui I want you to please call the FBI at 808-673-4112.”
“I believe there are other victims who suffered from these violent criminals that have not come forward and I’m begging you to come forward, tell your story, and be heard and demand justice,” he said.
Kunzelman was told by Judge Cahill not to return to his home.
Kunzelman said the people have put a fence around the house with a lock and he won’t sell it to anyone else for risk of their own safety.
“Yes, they stole my house I can never go to my house again, yes they stole my possessions, yes they beat me with shovels and committed a hate crime against me, and it goes on but also they stole from me my life on Hawaii. I wanted to live out my days with my wife and kids there, that’s where I chose to be and I chose to be with them the very people who didn’t want me,” he said.
Kunzelman said both men apologized to him for what they did at sentencing.
KHON2 asked if he believed them.
“I don’t know, I was glad they spoke I felt like that was probably important for me to hear and for them to say,” he said.
To report a hate crime in Hawaii, call the FBI office at 808-566-4300.
To log onto the FBI website to find the FBI field office in other locations if you are not in Hawaii, click here.