Seven people, including one wanted for robbery, were arrested Friday in Leilani Estates as part of a sweep aimed specifically at squatters illegally occupying residences in the lava-ravaged lower Puna subdivision.
Terrah Rose Brott-Freitas, 32, of Pahoa was arrested and charged with strong-arm robbery for allegedly stealing a motor vehicle by force. She was indicted Dec. 6 by a Hilo grand jury. Her bail was set at $10,000.
Also arrested and charged were: Victoria Lehuanani Sanchez-Barr, 32, of Pahoa with 14 counts of contempt of court; Claude Vernon Carvalho, 33, of Hawaiian Beaches with failure to appear and two counts of contempt of court; Tatiana Cortes, 25, of Hawaiian Beaches with two counts of contempt of court; and James W. Bachman, 38, of Nanawale Estates, Corina M. Gorospe, 32, of Hawaiian Beaches, and Sione Sipinga, 29, of Leilani Estates, all for contempt of court.
“They were not squatters. They weren’t arrested for trespassing,” Capt. Kenneth Quiocho, the Puna district police commander, said Monday. “When we went down to check some of the residences where the community reported to us they believed people were squatting, as part of making contact, we run warrant checks on people and ended up finding out that a lot of them had warrants, and they were arrested.”
Quiocho said the home where the arrests were made was occupied by the legal owners, who weren’t arrested in the sweep.
Squatters have been a problem in Leilani — as is the case in other Puna subdivisions, as well — and that issue apparently was exacerbated after residents in certain areas of the subdivision were forced to evacuate by Kilauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone eruption between May and September last year.
The Leilani Community Association and police, including Quiocho, have a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Leilani Community Center, 13-3441 Moku St. Leilani residents are encouraged to attend.
“Leilani is a platform from which we plan on expanding these essential projects to other neighborhoods and community areas where we have the same types of problems,” Quiocho said. “We’re trying to work with the community to make it better. And we’re not allowing the community to just bring us a problem and drop it on our laps. If you bring us a problem, we’re going to work on it together and we’re all going to be shareholders to try to make it better. And if it doesn’t work the first time, we’re going to come back to problem-solve and implement something else that we hope will work.”
Quiocho praised Leilani’s community association, its neighborhood watch and subdivision residents for their proactive approach to cleaning up their community and said the approach can work in other neighborhoods as well.
“We’ve been working with the community watch groups, and when they get information on individuals and vehicles that are in the area and provide that information we’re going to run with it and if that information shows that the individuals are wanted for something, then we’ll arrest people,” he said.
Police are encouraging the public to provide information that can assist in these types of projects by calling Puna Community Policing Officer Jeremy Kubojiri at 965-2716, the police non-emergency number at 935-3311 or Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.
“We want people to know when they come to us with information, we’ll act on that information and see if it leads to something,” Quiocho said.
“You never know when that one little bit of information you might not want to give us is the one that pushes us over the top on an investigation that we have already going.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.