HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a key moment in the TMT conflict, as protesters were being arrested at Mauna Kea, Mayor Harry Kim says the governor made the call to pull back law enforcement.
Kim made the statements Thursday night on PBS Insights when asked whether police or politicians were in charge July 17, when outnumbered police were faced with using force to clear the road.
On that day, 38 protesters ― all but one of whom were kupuna ― were arrested for blocking the only access road to the summit. And then the arrests abruptly stopped.
Kim said Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira called him with a critical question.
“They said at this rate we can’t control this and do you want us to use any kind of force because everybody agreed nobody wants that in Hawaii,” Kim said.
[SPECIAL COVERAGE: Conflict on Mauna Kea]
“They called me in regards if I could pass word to the governor because since this was a state operation with DOCARE people, sheriffs and the police officers," he continued.
"And the governor obviously had a very difficult decision and said no we should not use force, physical force because the question was of tasers and the question was of mustard gas,” Kim added.
(Kim mistakenly referred to the military chemical weapon mustard gas but meant pepper spray.)
When Insights host and Hawaii News Now Managing Editor Daryl Huff pressed Kim for clarification, the mayor said that Ige ultimately made the decision to call off the operation to clear the road that day.
“I’m asking that the people in command asked me to pass the word in regards to the use of force and I passed the response back, and this time no,” Kim said.
Kim’s response is in contradiction to a statement by the Governor’s Office, which said the “ultimate decision” to call off the arrests “was made by Hawaii County Police Department with the support of unified command.”
Ferreira, of Hawaii County police, also responded to questions about that day in a letter.
“The protesters are considered as acting illegally by blocking the road,” he wrote. “Due to the highly emotionally charged situation and the potential for mass violence due to the large numbers involved, the state is seeking a peaceful solution.”
The continued confusion over who was in charge during that critical operation comes as the standoff at Mauna Kea continues into its second month ― with no resolution in sight.
In the wake of the arrests, Ige issued an emergency proclamation for Mauna Kea, essentially shutting down the mountain. That declaration has since been lifted.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke says Ige is in a tough spot and lawmakers have gotten no word on what’s next. “I think the frustration lies with the lack of movement,” she said.
"We really don't know if it's a go or it's a no go," Luke added.
HNN sent follow up questions to the state attorney general and is waiting for a response.