HPD disputes claims of excessive force at wind farm protest

Updated: Nov. 15, 2019 at 5:13 PM HST
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KALAELOA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Department is pushing back against claims its officers used excessive force during a wind farm protest overnight in which 26 people were arrested.

Among those making claims of police brutality: Republican state Sen. Kurt Fevella.

He attended the protest and claimed at least four protesters were “assaulted” by officers.

“It was very excessive. I never seen anything like that in all my years,” said Fevella, whose wife has twice been arrested before while protesting the wind farm.

“There was a show of force and brutality. They are going to say that they didn’t do certain things, but I seen what I seen. It doesn’t do anything good when there’s women involved being shoved by men.”

Raya Salter, an environmental lawyer who was acting as a legal observer at the protest, said police were impatient and unnecessarily aggressive.

“One woman who was in the front, she dislocated her arm out of her socket. Another woman injured her leg on a police bicycle pedals and chains," Salter said.

"It got chaotic because people were falling and getting trampled.”

But HPD deputy Chief John McCarthy said it was the protesters ― and not the police ― who were out of line. He said rocks were thrown at solo bike officers and one officer was punched.

Authorities also said none of those arrested reported being injured.

“Our officers exercised a great amount of restraint. I’ve not seen any improprieties on the part of our officers," McCarthy said. “They’re extremely tolerant. They’re putting up with a lot out there.”

About 200 people attended the protest in Kalaeloa ― the most turbulent and emotional confrontation to date between protesters and police over construction of the Kahuku wind farm.

Protesters in Kalaeloa have sought to block the transport of equipment and parts to the North Shore.

Before Thursday’s protest, organizers of Ku Kiai Kahuku put out a call on social media, asking for at least 1,000 fellow opponents to descend upon the AES Na Pua Makani storage yard in Kalaeloa and join their blockade. As the night wore on, the protest grew increasingly heated.

Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said:

  • 21 of the protesters were arrested for disobeying a police officer;
  • one was arrested for disobedience and resisting arrest;
  • and three were arrested for harassing a police officer.

Bail amounts for those arrested ranged from $100 to $1,000. All 26 protesters have bailed out.

Since mid-October, police have made at least 161 arrests at wind farm protests. That includes some people taken into custody several times for blocking roads.

[Read more: As Honolulu police clear roads for wind farm, some ask why the same can’t be done for TMT]

Police said protesters were told to clear the road at 11 p.m. Over the next two hours, those who remained in the road were arrested for disobeying a police officer.

The crowd was then ordered to move back, police said. McCarthy said despite that, protesters continued to surge forward as officers sought to “hold the line” and keep people out of the road.

By 4 a.m., and following several protester take-downs, the convoy was able to complete its journey to the construction site in Kahuku.

The heated exchanges come as AES, the company behind the wind project, said it was more than halfway through with its transport schedule as it moves wind turbine parts to Kahuku.

A statement released by Mark Miller, AES’ chief operating officer, confirmed that construction of the first turbine is complete.

“We are pleased Na Pua Makani is one step closer to helping Hawaii achieve its 100% renewable future,” Miller said, in a statement.

The company plans to build eight turbines, and is transporting equipment to Kahuku through Nov. 26. Police plan to be at the Kalaeloa site nightly.

This isn’t the first time wind farm protesters and police have disagreed about how the other conducted themselves. Last month, a protester accused police of tasing and punching him, a claim police vehemently denied. Police also released video to support their claims.

On Friday, the police department didn’t release any body cam footage, saying that there was already “enough” posted on social media and that it was higher quality.

There was finger pointing between Dep. Chief McCarthy and Sen. Fevella. Both accused the other of crossing the line.

“I think the senator was out of control last night and that was pretty obvious on all the videos. I’ll let the video speak for itself,” said McCarthy.

“I was very upset. I was not getting out of hand. These men these so called men in law enforcement were shoving women,” said Fevella.

[Read more: Despite ongoing arrests, company behind wind farm project says it’s making progress]

Critics of the project are concerned about potential health effects and the killing of native Hawaiian wildlife such as the Hawaiian hoary bat.

Officials say once the wind farm is operational in 2020, the facility is expected to produce enough renewable energy to power 16,000 homes.

Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.