CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gerald Paakaula, left, with his lawyer, Todd Eddins, looked down during sentencing yesterday for his assault on a military couple earlier this year at Waikele Center.
Waikele beating nets 5-year term
A man will be sent to prison for his role in a parking lot fight
STORY SUMMARY »
An assault case at the Waikele Center earlier this year that garnered national news attention because of racial overtones is over, with the attacker getting a five-year prison term.
Gerald D. Paakaula, 44, received the prison sentence in Circuit Court yesterday for beating Staff Sgt. Andrew Dussell into unconsciousness and breaking the nose of Dussell's wife, Dawn, 23, after a minor traffic incident Feb. 19.
Paakaula's son screamed at Dussell, calling him a "f---- haole" several times, and later, Paakaula himself used the same expression. But prosecutors said it was not a hate crime.
Circuit Judge Steven Alm acknowledged the numerous letters of support from Paakaula's family, friends, co-workers and members of their church and the community. But he said the case has been "troubling" from the start.
FULL STORY »
A Waianae truck driver was sentenced to five years in prison for an assault with racial overtones on a military couple at Waikele Center that made national news earlier this year.
Gerald D. Paakaula, 44, admitted in Circuit Court in September just before trial to recklessly causing serious bodily injury to Staff Sgt. Andrew Dussell, 26, and causing bodily injury to Dussell's wife, Dawn, 23.
The altercation began as a fender-bender Feb. 19 when Andrew Dussell accidentally struck Paakaula's parked car as he tried to pull into an adjacent parking stall.
The case took on a racial slant because Paakaula's son screamed at Dussell, calling him a "f---- haole" several times, and Paakaula himself used the same expression later. But prosecutors said the accident was what precipitated the assault, and did not classify the case as a hate crime.
Circuit Judge Steven Alm accepted the plea agreement yesterday, which called for Paakaula to plead guilty to second-degree assault and a reduced charge of third-degree assault and agree to the five-year term.
Alm acknowledged Paakaula's acceptance of responsibility and the numerous letters of support the court received from Paakaula's family, friends, co-workers and members of their church and the community. But he said the case has been "troubling" from the start.
The letters describe Paakaula as a kind, considerate, humble, "shirt off his back" kind of person known for helping anyone in need, Alm said. "But we're complicated people, and there is another side to you -- and it's a violent side."
Paakaula had appeared before him back in 2002 and pleaded guilty to beating his 11-year-old son repeatedly with a belt and punching him in the head for misbehaving in school.
The boy suffered bruises and swelling to his face, arms and back. Paakaula was sentenced to two weeks in jail, which he served on consecutive weekends.
The Waikele attack elicited emotional responses from residents and nonlocals, some of whom denounced the Paakaulas' actions.
The letters from friends and family appeared to view Paakaula as the "victim" in this incident and that he was justified in his actions, Alm said.
But they need to understand that Paakaula took responsibility for attacking the couple and that he was guilty of the assault, Alm said.
Alm told Paakaula that when he saw his wife on the ground in a tussle with Dawn Dussell, "You had a choice," adding, "Given your size and presence, you could have stopped it right there. You could have frozen the scene and sorted it out."
Instead, Paakaula chose to hit Dussell, a woman half his size, and throw her to the ground before hitting her husband, Alm said.
Paakaula's son, now 17, who emerged from their car and yelled at Dussell for hitting them, also kicked Dussell in the head as he lay on the ground, according to witnesses.
"There is no excuse for that," Alm said.
Dawn Dussell suffered a nose cartilage injury but no fractures.
Andrew Dussell was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured eye socket and concussion. He also lost a front tooth. He has no recollection of what happened.
As a parent, Paakaula bears some responsibility for his son's actions as well as his racial comments, Alm added. While Paakaula's son wrote a letter to the court saying he loved his father and looked up to him as a role model, "What he saw you do that day -- hit a woman, and one-half your size -- sends a terrible message about violence."
While Paakaula's family will suffer hardship while he is in jail, "their hardship is because of your actions," Alm said.
The defense contended it was Dawn Dussell who precipitated the violence when she pushed the Paakaulas' son away from her husband. Dawn Dussell was telling the teen to leave her husband alone and was objecting to his obscenities.
Joreen Paakaula jumped in to defend her son and was tussling with Dawn Dussell when Gerald Paakaula appeared on the scene.
Paakaula gave a brief statement yesterday, saying he promised to redeem himself and become a better person.
Defense attorney Todd Eddins said Paakaula is not proud of what happened and hopes the Dussells will forgive him.
At the time, Paakaula was unable to control his emotions after walking out of the store with ice cream cones for his family only to see his wife, her lip bloody, sprawled on the ground with Dawn Dussell, Eddins said. Paakaula felt he needed to protect himself and his family, and he "recklessly" reacted.
"He hit each victim once and knows he hurt them," Eddins said.
Paakaula's son was adjudicated in Family Court for his participation in the assault and is serving a year at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Center in Kailua, where his parents visit. "They're trying to make a bad situation good," Eddins said.
The Dussells, who have declined to attend any of Paakaula's court hearings, are relieved that the matter was resolved quickly.
They want to stay and live here and just want to move on with their lives, said Deputy Prosecutor Franklin Pacarro.
The couple submitted a statement to the court about how they were affected by the incident, and Alm noted that they remain afraid in parking situations and likely will suffer future psychological repercussions.
The couple's son, then 3, was seated in the car during the assault.
Joreen Paakaula left the courtroom in tears, flanked by family and friends after her husband was taken into custody. She declined comment.
The state is expected to recommend a two-year minimum term to the Hawaii Paroling Authority.