The way the federal government is treating a Big Island man who has been in federal custody for three years is outrageous, a Hawaii Island senator says.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, and Sen. Wil Espero, chairman of the Senate’s Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, visited Roger Christie Wednesday morning at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. Ruderman said it took weeks of requests before federal officials would grant the visit, and officials imposed a number of conditions, including not allowing any media to attend. Ruderman said he questioned whether Christie’s constitutional right to a speedy trial was being ignored.
Federal officials say Christie poses a danger to the public.
“Roger Christie is being treated as though he is the most dangerous person in our community,” Ruderman said. “He’s not.”
Ruderman said he asked Christie Wednesday if he would start selling marijuana again, if released.
“He will not restart his ministry,” Ruderman said. “He will focus on his upcoming trial. That’s all he wants to do.”
Christie is in incredibly good spirits, Ruderman said, especially considering how long he has been incarcerated.
“He very much feels he’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Ruderman said. “He considers winning this trial his mission in life.”
Federal officials arrested Christie in June 2010 and charged him with conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Ruderman introduced two measures, Senate Concurrent Resolution 75 and Senate Resolution 42, urging the federal government to release Christie on bail pending his trial.
“Holding a defendant without bail, while denying his constitutional right to a speedy trial, is unheard of in our state,” Ruderman wrote in testimony supporting his resolutions. “Even repeat offenders of crimes such as large-scale distribution of (methamphetamine), violent criminals, rapists and murderers are routinely released on bail pending trial. Is Roger Christie, whose alleged crime is distribution of marijuana to medical patients with a permit and those claiming a religious right to use marijuana, a greater danger to society than offenders such as these?”
Ruderman said he has known Christie for 25 years.
“While I would not endorse his distribution efforts, I cannot see how such activity justifies being held without bail,” he said. “To all of us who know him, the claim that he is a danger to society is so absurd as to be laughable — if only it weren’t being used in such a tragically flawed effort to keep a citizen incarcerated without trial. Roger Christie deserves to be released on bail, just as much as any other nonviolent offender.”
A pretrial report recommended Christie be released on $50,000 bond. Eleven other defendants arrested at the same time as Christie were all released on bail, Ruderman said.
A message left on Ruderman’s cellphone seeking additional comment was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo, said he has also known Christie for years, since Kahele served on the Hawaii County Police Commission in the 1980s. Back then, Christie would attend commission meetings and advocate for decriminalizing marijuana. Kahele said he couldn’t comment on the federal charges, but he did question the trial delay.
“I believe in a speedy trial,” Kahele said. “He should be brought to trial, as soon as possible. Give Roger Christie his day in court.”
In a motion filed last month in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, federal attorneys argued the benefits of extending the trial date to July outweighed Christie’s and other defendants’ right to a speedy trial for several reasons, including that the case is “so complex” because of “the existence of novel questions of fact or law (specifically, those dealing with RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for the trial itself within the time limits established by the Speedy Trial Act.”
The state Department of Public Safety testified against Ruderman’s resolutions, repeating federal concerns that releasing Christie on bail would pose a threat to the community.
Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, noted state Senators tried this session to advance a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession. The bill had stalled, but Green said there was a chance it may begin moving again. He said he had no formal opinion on Christie’s incarceration.
Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Kohala, Kona, did not respond to a cellphone message and inquiry Thursday.
Ruderman, in his written statement, said he also had been concerned about Christie being denied visitors.