HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Who was in charge when 38 Thirty Meter Telescope protesters were arrested at Mauna Kea?
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said last week that it was the governor who made the call to pull law enforcement back.
But on Monday, Gov. David Ige said Hawaii County police were in charge on July 17 when activists faced off with law enforcement.
The governor hasn’t publicly spoken about the conflict on Mauna Kea for more than two weeks. At a news conference Monday on back-to-school traffic, he addressed the conflict briefly.
“Certainly, we can talk about the command structure but Maj. Jelsma (of the Hawaii County Police Department) was incident commander at that time,” Ige said, while leaving the news conference.
It’s the first time since July 30 that Ige has said anything about the conflict, other than emailed press statements and repeated messages of support for TMT on his Facebook page.
At the news conference, he offered no insight into how authorities hope to resolve the conflict.
Last week, on Insights on PBS Hawaii, Kim said told Hawaii News Now managing editor Daryl Huff that Ige made the decision to call off the operation to clear the road.
“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 and the Governor obviously had a very difficult decision and said no we should not use force,” he said.
Hawaii News News asked the state Attorney General Clare Connors if there was confusion on the chain of command or blurred lines between law enforcement and politics.
In an email, she responded: “There was no confusion regarding the chain of command on the part of law enforcement. The deliberate and orchestrated manner in which the protesters blockaded the road is what led to the stand down order."
"To avoid causing harm to the protesters and officers, Hawaii County PD operational command made the decision not to engage further. This decision was reported to Mayor Kim," she added.
Connors also acknowledged that Kim called the governor and told him that force would be necessary to move the protesters.
“The governor did not give an order to stand down, as that had already happened. The only action the governor took that day related to the actual operations was to issue an emergency proclamation in response to Hawaii County PD’s earlier request,” she said.
Meanwhile, TMT opponents say there was never a threat of violence.
“We know that they came prepared perhaps not with the intention, but they came prepared to use force and this is apparent by them with the 3-foot baton with them swinging with it at their waist, the cans of pepper spray and mace attached to their vest,” said Kahookahi Kanuha, of Puuhonua o Puuhuluhulu Maunakea.
Connors says Kim is responsible for coordinating Hawaii County law enforcement efforts, which are still supported by the State. Kim has said he’ll reveal a plan soon for a peaceful resolution.