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Attack unprovoked, state lawmaker says

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    State Rep. Tom Brower removed his glasses prior to discussing his injuries during a new conference Tuesday. He insisted the attack was unprovoked.

A day after he was assaulted while taking photos at a large Kaka­ako homeless encampment, state Rep. Tom Brower insisted the attack was unprovoked. But the family of two teens involved said it came after the lawmaker laughed at the boys.

Brower’s account Tuesday of what happened varied considerably from that of the family of the two homeless teenagers — one 14 and the other 17. The Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser is not identifying the teens because they are minors.

"This was just an unfortunate circumstance," said Brower (D, Wai­kiki-Ala Moana-Kaka­ako) at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Brower said he regularly walks in the area, which used to be part of his district. He said he shoots images of tents and debris on the road, but not people.

"I specifically try to stand a distance away," Brower said.

The sister of the 17-year-old said Brower was asked five times to stop recording video.

"He usually walks away, but this time he was laughing at my cousin," Passion Totoa, 23, said.

Totoa said she heard her 14-year-old cousin say, "You’re going to laugh at me?"

She said she then ran over and saw the two boys punching Brower and asked, "Why you guys beating him up?" They responded, "Because he’s laughing at us," Totoa said.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Brower said he had recently stepped up his visits to the area, after he and other legislators received an email from the nearby Children’s Discovery Center expressing concerns about public safety and health.

The homeless encampment lines sidewalk areas surrounding the Children’s Discovery Center.

Brower said immediately after he had shot a few photos Monday afternoon, "a guy on a skateboard deliberately ran into me, and he punched me several times in the chest."

Brower continued, "He tried to throw me to the ground, and I moved back several steps but he continued to come towards me. I backed away farther, and he continued to come at me. At that point I took my camera out to videotape and document what was happening for my personal records, a few seconds of video at most."

The skateboarder approached from about a block away from where Brower had been taking photos of tents and items along the streets, he said.

"I didn’t take pictures of him. 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.

"Soon after, I was knocked down and punched by someone else, a second person who I didn’t see. Throughout the ordeal I never acted aggressively. I never tried to hit anyone back."

After the assault, which occurred sometime after 4:30 p.m., paramedics transported Brower to the Queen’s Medical Center, where he was treated and released Monday evening. He suffered a laceration near his right eye, facial swelling, bruised ribs and scrapes to his leg and left hand.

Rose Puu said her 14-year-old son was involved in the altercation. When she arrived at the scene, Brower was standing there with his face bloodied.

She said the youths, who did not know who Brower was, were upset that he was filming their tents. Puu said her son and the others feel exploited when they’re photographed or filmed.

"Sometimes the thing go straight to Facebook," she said. "And they don’t like it."

Brower said he wasn’t planning to share the photos or videos on social media.

Puu said her son didn’t hit the man, but asked the man why he was shooting video. The man said he didn’t give a reason, she said.

"They don’t trust. The kids over here, they don’t trust," she said from inside a tidy makeshift tent fashioned out of a blue tarp attached to a chain-link fence along a sidewalk. "One thing about over here, it’s like a family thing."

Puu and her four sons have lived there for about four years, she said.

Totoa said that when Brower laughed at the boys, it was hurtful.

"It’s not funny," she said. "It’s bad enough we’re out here. It’s not what we choose."

Totoa said Brower dropped his camera when he ran.

One of the people living in the encampment picked it up. In the aftermath of the assault, when a state official asked for the camera, Totoa said she tracked it down and retrieved it.

Brower’s photos, however, had been deleted.

"When they deleted it, they destroyed our evidence," she said.

Brower made national headlines in 2013 by waging a one-man campaign against vagrancy, using a sledgehammer to demolish stolen and abandoned shopping carts that homeless people used to carry their belongings.

While many residents supported Brower’s efforts over the course of several weeks, homeless advocates called for legislative leaders to discipline him.

Brower said Tuesday he does not hold any animosity against the boys who attacked him, and that he has not decided whether to press charges. There have been no arrests. The state attorney general’s office investigated the assault.

Brower said his visit to the area Monday was his third since receiving the email about a week ago.

"At this time my concern is not necessarily (for) my own safety, but for the safety of families and children who frequent the Children’s Discovery Center and people who enjoy a day at the park," he said.

"For over five years I have been an advocate for the designation of an area where the homeless may camp, homeless safe zones, as an intermediary step before they can get into permanent housing."

When asked by media whether the encampment should be moved out of the area, Brower said, "We need to have a camp for people who are homeless somewhere" away from areas of "economic or aesthetic importance."

He added, "I feel for them. They are human beings. I consider some my friends, and we should have areas set aside for people to camp."

When asked how he’s feeling physically, Brower said, "I feel fine. I feel sore but I’m in good spirits."

Mac Schwenke, vice president of Adult Friends for Youth, and a social worker with the nonprofit organization spoke to the families of the teens, and the boys themselves.

Totoa’s family members, including a toddler and a wheelchair-bound man who left for dialysis treatment Tuesday afternoon, live in a roughly 50-foot section of the sidewalk on Ohe Street, in a blue plastic tarpaulin tent.

The family appeared to be somewhat overwhelmed when state Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), state Rep. John Mizuno (D, Kame­ha­meha Heights-Kalihi Valley) and Adult Friends for Youth representatives, who were there at Mizuno’s request, showed up at their tent Tuesday afternoon.

"I don’t even know what happened," said Totoa’s mother. "I don’t teach my kids to do that. They probably got mad at something. They don’t go out beating people."

She questioned why Monday night’s TV news included video images of her son and nephew.

"What are you videoing us for? … You’re not supposed to film kids."

Totoa said the boys "wanted to go on camera to apologize to everybody."

After speaking with the boys, Schwenke said, "One kid said it doesn’t matter what he says, people are still going to look down at them as being homeless people."

He said, "One of the boys was willing to apologize to the representative. Basically, all they want is to be left alone."

"They did say that he (Brower) was teasing the kids," Schwenke said. "It wasn’t just taking photos; he was actually teasing them."

"He was laughing at them, kind of degrading them," he said. "They said don’t video."

After the legislators and social workers left, a community policing team arrived.

Officers spoke directly to the boys, and they shook hands.

Totoa said police visit them daily.

Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said the organization "is looking into filing a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission" or some other venue against Brower.

"We feel that his conduct is unbecoming of a lawmaker," she said, adding that he has destroyed property and taunted and provoked these homeless teens.

Brower "aggressively lobbied against our bill to establish a homeless bill of rights," which died last session, she said.

She said Brower’s "only reason for provoking and taunting them was to get them to react violently."

Those living in the encampment feel their image has been misrepresented in the media, and problems result when they are seen on the news by their schoolmates, she said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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