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April 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Regulator-Ripping Diver Sentenced in Underwater Attacks

from the April, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The man who has become the poster child for the debate over the harvest of aquarium fish pleaded no contest in February to tearing the regulator from the mouth of Maui-based reef activist Rene Umberger in West Hawaii waters last May. We gave the details of the underwater attack in our June 2014 article "An Underwater Attack Makes World Headlines." Umberger and five other divers with underwater cameras were filming Jay Lovell, an aquarium fish collector of 30 years, harvesting fish at 50 feet off the Kona coast when Lovell swam toward Umberger and ripped the regulator out of Umberger's mouth, an act that was captured on video and received national attention.

In Hawaii's Third Circuit Court on February 17, Lovell received a deferred six-month prison sentence on the charge of second-degree terroristic threatening. He must also obtain an anger management assessment, per the terms of a plea agreement forged between the prosecutors and Lovell's defense attorney. If Lovell stays out of trouble for one year, he will not have to serve the time and the incident can be expunged from his record.

Umberger told Undercurrent that the trial was not resolved the way she wanted. "The original plea offer was to include some time in jail and, what I thought was most important, anger management training. I also thought his permit should be revoked, at least while he was on probation. But the deal the attorneys struck had very minimal penalties. I could have said 'I reject that offer,' but in a very odd coincidence, Lovell's sentencing date was rescheduled to happen on the same day that Hawaii County was debating new laws about licensing fish collector that I had been working on for two years. There was no way I could sit at trial all day while the county council considered the laws, so I was forced to accepting the minimal deal. " Umberger did take the stand briefly during Lovell's sentencing to ask that his fishing license be suspended during the deferment period, but Judge Ronald Ibarra told her the court must abide by the terms of the plea agreement.

Lovell had little to say during the proceedings, except that he was a law-abiding citizen and would continue to be so. Ibarra said the sentence gave Lovell the chance to keep the threat off his record. "You are lucky you aren't here facing a more serious charge." But Lovell had more to say on the matter when interviewed by West Hawaii Today after the court hearing. "They came out looking for me that day, I didn't go looking for it. It does look like we're going to get protection from this and the next time they'll be the ones who get arrested." He was referring to a bill introduced this session by Hawaii state representatives that prohibits the harassment of anyone engaged in marine or aquarium fishing (it was later deferred till the next government session for consideration).

Umberger is not surprised by his change of face. "He cried on TV during his sentencing, but as soon as it's over, he goes outside to talk to the press, and there's no remorse. He probably is out there raping the reef right now."

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