UFC Hall of Famer B.J. Penn's legal issues aren't limited to a restraining order and custody battle.
A public records request revealed Penn also is under an active police investigation after he allegedly threatened a taro farmer with a machete in a dispute over trespassing.
In January 2018, police released an all-points bulletin stating that Penn, 40, was wanted by police. Penn was accused of first-degree terroristic threatening, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Sergeant Jason Grouns of the Hawaii Police Department on Thursday told MMA Junkie the case remains active 15 months after the alleged incident because "all parties involved have not been located (or) contacted yet, and it cannot be routed to the prosecutors until complete."
Penn family attorney Gary Levitt expressed shock when contacted by MMA Junkie about the allegation, which was reported Jan. 19, 2018. He said Penn acknowledged a dispute over access to his property in Waipio Valley, a taro farm and training facility that resides next to the alleged victim's own taro farm. But Levitt strenuously denied any violent behavior and said Penn hasn't been contacted by police.
"B.J. said he's never given a statement to the police; they haven't told him he's got a terroristic threatening charge, or there are charges pending," Levitt said. "He just said there was an incident, it was over one year ago, and it had to do with a gate. There was no threatening or machete or anything like that."
The UFC declined to comment when contacted by MMA Junkie. Penn is scheduled to face Clay Guida at UFC 237 on May 11 in Rio de Janeiro.
According to the APB, Penn went to the man's property with a machete, "calling him to come out of his farm house." The victim "feared for his life and remained inside of his residence where he hid." Penn, per the report, "started to strike the ground with the machete and state that he was going to kill him."
Penn returned later on an ATV and used it to damage an entry gate, the report said. The alleged victim "felt unsafe there and feared for his life so he left the area and reported the incident to police."
MMA Junkie was unable to reach the alleged victim for comment.
Speaking generally about criminal investigations in Hawaii, former prosecutor Michael Henry Garbarino called a year-plus investigation "atypical" for terroristic threatening, which has a four-year statute of limitations. He added it's common for investigations to stall when alleged victims don't participate, but he was uncertain as to why an alleged perpetrator wouldn't be questioned.
"That does lead to the natural question of, well, are they actually investigating?" Garbarino said. "That's a reasonable question.
"Having said that, when it comes to police interviewing the accused on any criminal investigation, the first thing they're going to do is advise them of their right to have a lawyer, and they're not obligated to answer questions. So if they anticipate, that's what might occur anyway. That might be the reason they have not yet questioned the accused."
B.J. Penn in July 2018. (Photo: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)
On Friday, an investigator with the Hawaii police said it's "relatively common" for inquiries to take time as witnesses are interviewed.
"I know we're on an island, and people think it's easy to find people," Lieutenant Rio S. Amon-Wilkins said. "But sometimes we have outstanding all-points bulletins for people for quite some time."
Amon-Wilkins said he'll refer the matter to the district where the alleged incident took place.
"I'll definitely follow up on this now that it's been brought to my attention," he said.
Penn has a history of run-ins with the law in his native Hawaii. In 2007, he pled nolo contendre to third-degree assault after allegedly striking a police officer outside a club. The charge was dismissed in 2012 after he completed 50 hours of community service and paid a $2,000 fine.
In 2015, Penn was charged with second-degree assault after allegedly fighting his friend outside a bar in Maui. The island's prosecutor offered to drop the charges in exchange for paying the friend's medical bills; he reportedly suffered a fractured eye socket in the melee. Penn said he was acting in self defense.
In 2016, Penn was investigated for sexual assault after the girlfriend of a former employee accused him of pulling down her shorts and forcing himself on her. The charges were later dropped for insufficient evidence.
As MMA Junkie reported earlier this month, the mother of Penn's two children filed a restraining order against him, alleging years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The parties are now engaged in a custody battle and are due back in court for a hearing in June.
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