Census taker 'bullied' in Puna
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
A federal census worker on the Big Island was arrested for trespassing after he unsuccessfully tried to get a Puna resident to accept census forms in March.
Now the federal government has filed court papers to take the case out of the hands of Hawai'i County authorities, saying the census worker was performing his federal duties and is immune from state prosecution.
According to documents filed in federal court yesterday, the incident took place March 10 after census worker Russell J. Haas arrived at a fenced residential lot in an unspecified Puna subdivision.
Haas said in a written report that the area is "inhabited by diverse variety of people, most (of whom) live there because of the privacy allowed by the jungle environment and crummy roads."
Haas said there were no signs on the fence, so he rolled open the driveway gate and entered the property. He said he closed the gate behind him to keep "loose but not threatening dogs inside the fence."
Haas said he walked about 10 to 15 feet onto the lot when a man came out of the garage and said, "Please leave the property."
Haas said he identified himself and was wearing his identity badge around his neck, and told the man he wanted to give him his census questionnaire.
When the man again asked Haas to leave, Haas asked him to come to the gate and accept the paperwork, saying he would leave the material on the gate.
The resident said, "I'll call the cops," and Haas said, "Fine, I'll wait by the gate," Haas wrote in a report on the incident.
While Haas was outside the gate and speaking to the man about the importance and value of completing the census forms, the man reached into his pants pocket and a badge fell out "onto the driveway," Haas wrote.
Haas, who happens to be a retired police officer from New Jersey, said he told the man, "Dude, if you're a cop then you should know about the census; it's the law, the one that you swore to uphold and protect when you took office."
Two police cars then arrived and Haas identified himself, giving one of the officers the census material to give to the resident.
The officer then walked over to the resident at the gate, spoke with him, returned and "thrust the paperwork into my chest, crumpling it into my body," Haas wrote.
"He doesn't have to enter YOUR CENSUS," Haas said the officer told him.
"I was stunned and felt that this man was threatening me and bullying me to go away and was using his police powers illegally," Haas reported.
"The officer then said I should get in my car and get the hell out of there," Haas wrote.
"I responded Or WHAT?" and the officer said, "We'll lock you up," Haas reported.
After Haas told the officer to "make a case," he was arrested and taken to the Kea'au Police Station, where he was booked on a trespassing charge.
Haas' daughter bailed him out and he returned to the house the next day, placing the questionnaire on the gate.
"As a police officer, I learned that the census is like a roll call and everyone should be unafraid of standing up and saying, I'm American and I count," Haas wrote.
The deputy prosecutor handling the case on the Big Island, Christopher Bridges, was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.
Attempts to reach Big Island police officials for comment were unsuccessful.