WAILUKU - A Kihei man who said he "made a bad decision" when he accelerated a pickup truck, striking one police officer and almost hitting another while trying to leave from a party near Honolua Bay, was sentenced Tuesday to a 10-year prison term.
"To a certain extent, your presence there that evening set a whole series of events in place that resulted in individuals' lives being placed in jeopardy," 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza said in imposing the sentence on Austin Pierman, 22.
In addition to the officers, Pierman's passengers in the cab and bed of the pickup truck were endangered when officers fired shots in response to Pierman's actions, Cardoza said.
"Officers were understandably firing at you to prevent you from causing harm to someone else," the judge told Pierman. "That's extremely dangerous for everyone. You're fortunate that the officers were not injured or killed in this incident."
Four Lahaina patrol officers had gone to the area after a report that gunshots had been fired at a large party at Punalau Beach, also known as "Windmills," shortly after 4 a.m. July 18, 2010.
The officers were in four patrol cars, each with headlights and take-down lights on, and had pulled over a black sedan, said Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani.
He said officer Russell Kapahulehua testified he could hear the truck that Pierman drove approaching and was face to face with Pierman from a distance of a couple of feet when the truck slowed and almost came to a stop.
"At that point, he made the conscious decision to accelerate to try and get away," Tani said. "He made the conscious decision to try to drive through these police officers."
He said officer Erik Losvar, who was hit by the truck, flew over its hood. He would have been crushed by the truck if he hadn't managed to get off his feet to avoid the brunt of the impact, Tani said.
"It was because officer Losvar was fortunate enough to have that split second to jump up in the air that he wasn't killed or run over," Tani said.
He said Pierman didn't stop after hitting Losvar and almost hit officer Harry Matsuura Jr., who had to dive out of the way of the vehicle.
"Four officers, fairly experienced, who up to this incident had never fired their weapon in the line of duty, fired 15 shots," Tani said. "Four officers actually fired almost simultaneously, that's how serious they thought the situation was."
Pierman was struck in the neck by a bullet that first hit the column of the truck, preventing worse injury, Tani said. Two men in the bed of the pickup truck also were injured by gunshots, police said.
In March, a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the two passengers was dismissed by a judge's ruling that the officers, including officer Jun Hattori, had used reasonable force in firing shots at the fleeing driver.
Tani asked that Pierman be sentenced to consecutive prison sentences totaling 15 years, the maximum that the prosecution could seek under terms of a plea agreement.
Pierman had pleaded no contest to two counts each of attempted first-degree assault and first-degree terroristic threatening of officers Losvar and Matsuura. The assault charges were reduced from the first-degree attempted murder charges that Pierman originally faced.
Noting that Pierman was 19 years old at the time of the incident, Deputy Public Defender Shelly Miyashiro asked that he be sentenced as a young adult offender to a nine-year prison term or to the 10-year prison term.
At the time, Pierman didn't have a steady job and "was hanging out a lot with his friends," Miyashiro said.
She said Pierman "didn't really have a good feeling" about going to Windmills that night but wanted to be with his friends and ended up driving a friend's truck.
"What happened next was his parents' and his worst nightmare," Miyashiro said. "Not only did Austin encounter the police, get into trouble, but he also ended up in the emergency room.
"In short, he just wasn't thinking. He was there, he freaked out, reacted, and he just tried to leave, get away by going around the police. It was something that happened really quickly. Austin didn't mean to scare or harm the police."
Pierman's only prior convictions are for drunken and reckless driving in 2010, Miyashiro said.
Since his father posted a $250,000 bail bond for Pierman's release in May 2012, Pierman has worked in his father's construction business and coached Pop Warner football, Miyashiro said. She said he also attended a semester of college and wants to continue his education.
"His social circle has gotten a lot smaller," she said. "He doesn't hang out with friends as much."
About two dozen family members and friends were in the courtroom gallery Tuesday "to show their love and support for Austin," Miyashiro said.
"We want to support Austin to be the good man he is," said his father, William Pierman. "Austin is a good boy. If he was a criminal in any way, give him the boot. I don't think Austin deserves to go to prison."
After thanking his family and friends for showing up, Austin Pierman said, "I want to apologize to the cop Losvar for that night and the other three officers, too, and their families. My intention wasn't to hit him. I know I made a bad decision."
Judge Cardoza asked Pierman "what was really going on that night."
"It was just a bad night," Pierman said. "I know now I should have definitely stopped. I could have avoided all this. I wouldn't be in this courtroom right now."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.