Hawaii lawmaker denies provoking attackers at homeless camp

Hawaii lawmaker denies provoking attackers at homeless camp
Published: Jun. 30, 2015 at 9:47 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 1, 2015 at 2:41 PM HST
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KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after state representative Tom Brower was allegedly assaulted by homeless teens at an encampment in Kaka'ako, he denies provoking the attack.

"I didn't take pictures of him and I didn't take my camera out when he was near me, until I was hit several times and he was trying to get me on the ground," described Brower, who represents Waikiki and Ala Moana.

One of the teens reportedly involved in the altercation apologized Tuesday, but says the public needs to realize the families living there are reaching a breaking point.

"It's pretty difficult trying to survive out here. A lot of families are having a hard time already and then you come out here and do that and we're trying to get back on our feet," said Jonah Iose. "He should've told us he was a state representative we would've not done that. And he should've asked us. And we would've might let him take pictures of us."

State representative Tom Brower says he went down to Kaka'ako after receiving an email from officials with the Children's Discovery Center about safety and sanitary concerns in the area.

"During my walk I took two pictures of two different streets and put my camera away. Within a few seconds, a guy on skateboard deliberately ran into me and he punched me several times in the chest," described Brower.

An investigator with the Attorney General's office was on the scene Tuesday to question the two teens who were reportedly involved.

They say they were provoked by Brower, who failed to identify himself or explain what he was doing.

"He should've asked us instead of hiding, 'cause he was hiding. He was trying to pull a slick one, but I caught him and I was just telling him to stop and he never like listen," said Iose.

Critics say anyone living on the sidewalk should have no expectation of privacy in a public space,

but advocates for the homeless say they should still be treated with respect.

"These people are relegated to sidewalks because there's a dwindling number of spaces in Honolulu where the houseless who don't get services are able to exist. They can't be in public beaches or public parks. They can't even be in their own cars on a public road. So this really is a last resort for them," described Kathryn Xian, Executive Director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.

Legal experts say Representative Brower had the right to take pictures or film in a public place, but witnesses claim Brower was pointing his camera inside the tents just before the altercation.

"There were people in their tent looking at him like, what is he doing? He has no right. Not even the cops can do that. So that's not right at all," said Freddy Faumuina Tumbaga, who says he saw the reported assault Monday evening.

Attorneys say it's a matter of where the pictures are being taken.

"If someone is taking a picture of you outside your tent, that's one thing. If you're inside someone's tent or an enclosed area and insisting on video-taping them or taking photographs of them, I would say that's an intrusion to their privacy," explained Myles Breiner, a defense attorney.

Brower denies taking photos inside anyone's living area or snapping pictures of any individuals.

"I did not provoke an attack," Brower said.

There are more than 500 people estimated to be living on the sidewalks here in Kaka'ako, most of them families and many of whom say they're tired of being treated like a spectacle.

"We just don't like the fact -- how would you feel if we came into your houses and started recording? I mean, just because you guys have a house don't mean anything. We both breathe the same way. We both die the same way. What's the difference?" asked Tumbaga.

Outreach providers who serve this area say they've been concerned about escalating tensions for weeks now and they're just hoping it won't get worst before it gets better.

"With the community being so sensitive to the misrepresentation of their population in the media and the dehumanization - they felt he was just another cameraman wanting to do that. And warned him and when he refused, the unfortunately resorted to violence. Primarily to protect their families," said Xian.

It's unclear if the Attorney General will files charges, though there is an on-going investigation into felony theft and assault. Representative Brower himself was evasive about whether he would insist on any prosecution.

Related link:

State Rep. Tom Brower injured in altercation at Kakaako homeless camp

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