By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Two Paauilo men were arrested by police Sunday afternoon after a calf was shot and skinned on an organic farm near Honokaa.
Jason James Williams, 25, and Lonnie James Knutson, 22, were taken into custody on Pu‘u‘ala Farm & Ranch on suspicion of livestock theft and carrying an unloaded firearm, both Class C felonies carrying a possible five-year prison sentence.
Both men were being held at the Hilo police cellblock and neither had been charged as of press time Monday. By law, police have until 1:20 p.m. today to charge the men or release them from custody.
The calf had been “cut up,” according to Hamakua Police Capt. Andrew Burian.
Burian said the investigation had been turned over to Criminal Investigation Section detectives.
Zack Gibson, Pu‘u‘ala Farm manager, said the two arrested men are “woofers” — unpaid volunteers from Washington state who are working on the farm to gain a practical education in organic farming.
Gibson said the calf belonged to rancher Peter De Luz, who is leasing ranch land from Gibson’s father, and that De Luz notified police. He added that he and De Luz have an ongoing dispute over water, and he believes Williams and Knutson became unwitting pawns in that dispute. Gibson also alluded to “extenuating circumstances” surrounding the calf’s shooting.
“There was an injured calf in a gulch and they shot it, and they were skinning it to try to recover the meat,” Gibson said Monday afternoon. He described the gulch as “really gnarly, almost vertical.” He said he is the owner of the rifle the men used to “put the calf out of its misery.”
Gibson described the workers’ actions as “stupid,” but added he doesn’t believe they intended any malice. He conceded the men shouldn’t have cut up the carcass for meat, but said he believes their intent was to not be wasteful, not to pilfer livestock.
“It’s not as if these kids are cattle rustlers,” he said. “They took a hunting rifle down there that’s used to eradicate pigs from our farm and went to shoot a downed calf that was inside our gulch. So they did that. I don’t know how they got down there to shoot the thing. If the cow was down there, I understand that it needed to be euthanized. I probably would have done it differently, called the owner of the ranch, but these two kids are from the mainland and don’t know Peter De Luz and probably didn’t know better.”
Gibson said that he was in Kona on business when the incident occurred, and the men were arrested before he returned.
“Those kids made a bad decision instead of going to get the owner, but they don’t know the owner. They know me, and I’m over in Kona,” he said. “And the calf’s in the gulch. So they made a decision to shoot it. And while they were trying to take care of this animal and bring it up out of the gulch, the rancher comes. They’re not trying to hide. They’re right out in the open with the truck parked, and they’re trying to get it out of the gulch.
“It’s not like these kids shot a calf that was next to its mother. It had been stuck in a gulch for who knows how long, maybe a day or two. And it probably wasn’t very well off.”
Gibson said that he owns cattle, as well, and estimated the value of the calf at $350. He said he would have offered De Luz another calf to replace the dead animal had he been around when the flap occurred.
A call to De Luz’s cell phone was not returned by press time Monday.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.