Police arrest Census taker
(John Burnett And Peter Sur) A battle is brewing between the state and federal governments over a Census taker arrested in Puna for misdemeanor trespassing.
The U.S. Attorney’s office filed papers Thursday in federal court in Honolulu to take the case of 57-year-old Russell Haas out of 3rd District Court. That will pit the feds against local prosecutors.
“I’m looking to have it kept in state court,” county Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Bridges said Friday.
Haas pleaded not guilty on April 8 to second-degree trespassing. He was arrested March 10 at 12:30 p.m. in in Hawaiian Acres, after a resident Haas says was an off-duty police officer allegedly refused to cooperate with the Census and called Puna police.
“When I opened his gate and walked in … he stepped out of his garage and said, ‘Please get off my property,'” Haas said Friday. Haas said he identified himself as a Census worker, and the man again requested for him to leave.
“I said, ‘Can I please just give you the Census (form)?’ And he didn’t want it,” Haas said. “He said he was going to call the cops, so I said, ‘OK, fine.’ We’d been trained to wait by the gate for the cops to get there and hand them the forms that we would have handed to the guy. The police then hand it to them and tell them, ‘It’s the law, do it.’ Then everybody would walk away and it would be fine. That was what I expected.
“But when I was standing next to the gate talking to the guy, he pulls something out …and out pops this little tin shield, and it falls and clatters on his driveway. And I realized he was telling me he was a cop.”
“Then I went, ‘Dude, if you’re a cop, you know that you have to be in the Census. You have to be because you’ve sworn an oath to uphold and obey (the law).'”
Haas, who is a former New Jersey police officer, said while he and the man were talking across the gate, police “pulled up behind me, suddenly.”
“I handed them the Census and expected them to hand them to this guy and say, ‘That’s it,'” Haas said. “They walked over and talked to him for a minute or two, then walked back to me … and then stuffed it into my chest, and said, ‘He doesn’t have to enter your Census. He doesn’t have to enter any Census. He doesn’t have to fill out any of your forms or answer any of your questions. And if I were you, I’d get into my car and get the hell outta here, right now.’
“I turned to him and said, ‘Or what?’ And he said, ‘I’ll lock you up.'” And I turned back and said, ‘So make your case.’ They threw the cuffs on me, took me down to Keaau Police Station and I waited there until my daughter bailed me out.” Haas’ bail was $25.
According to the Census Bureau website, people are required by federal law to respond to the census. Title 13 of the U.S. Code says adults who refuse or willfully neglect to complete the questionnaire can be fined up to $100, and people who refuse to answer questions posed by census takers can be fined up to $5,000.
The identity of the man who refused to answer Haas’ questions wasn’t immediately known.