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Puna resident recounts arrest for trying to get to his home in evacuation zone

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Kapoho resident Mark Clawson was arrested for not complying with Hawaii police during the evacuation.

PAHOA >> Living behind police checkpoints in an evacuation zone near lava breakouts and toxic gas plumes in Puna can be a dicey prospect from a safety standpoint.

But for one man it got particularly nettlesome with a wee-hours arrest and now-pending court case.

Mark Clawson, 64, who farms fruit and macadamia nut trees on 10 acres where he lives near Kapoho, found out last week how important it is to not leave home without identification.

Although he’s no worse for the wear and expressed gratitude for the work of public safety officers, he’s upset about the ordeal for which he acknowledges his share of responsibility.

“I feel like I was abused,” he said. “I was trying to go home.”

The incident happened in the early hours on Wednesday as Clawson, a semi-retired plumbing contractor, was driving back to his house, located east of Pahoa and the fissures in and around the Leilani Estates subdivision where lava has been oozing and spouting for three weeks.

According to Clawson’s account, he left his house, forgetting his driver’s license there. On his return trip when he reached a police checkpoint on Highway 132 at around 2 a.m, he wasn’t able to show proof of residence — a requirement for residents returning to their homes in areas where they have been advised to evacuate.

Clawson said he was cited for driving without a license, which he believes he deserved. Without a license, the officers weren’t going to allow Clawson to drive any further.

He said he was still determined to get home via a 2-mile walk in the rain. “I don’t mind two miles in the rain,” he said.

Police, however, weren’t at liberty to let him pass through the checkpoint without being able to validate that he lived in the neighborhood.

This is where things got testy, according to Clawson, who said he engaged in some “verbal jousting” with the police.

A Hawaii Police Department representative was not available Saturday to comment on the incident.

Clawson said he was perplexed about why the police were able to issue him a traffic citation with his name and Social Security number but wouldn’t allow him to proceed home on foot. He also said he made an unsuccessful request that officers contact another officer down the road who might vouch for Clawson as being a resident.

Indignant, Clawson proceeded to walk toward his house — and police reacted.

“Two steps, that’s all it took,” Clawson said.

Shortly thereafter, he was being booked at the Pahoa police substation for what officers called “refusal to evacuate.”

Hawaii County has in place a “mandatory” evacuation order for several hundred residents in dangerous areas, but no one is being forcefully removed from their homes. Residents are being allowed to visit or stay on their properties depending on where they are.

A county spokesperson said police and Hawaii National Guard personnel manning checkpoints have to be strict about the rules because they are charged with protecting property. Since the eruptions began May 3, one man was arrested for burglarizing three homes in an evacuation area before being caught in a fourth.

Still, Clawson said he didn’t deserve to be arrested. At the same time, though, he emphasized that he appreciates and respects what law enforcement is doing to protect residents.

“Those people are working long hours and there’s lots of strain,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough, they’ve been doing a terrific job.”

Clawson said the strain and stress, along with changing situations and danger, perhaps contributed to his ordeal.

After being booked, Clawson was allowed to leave the station, he said, adding that a friend picked him up and police let him return home. Clawson estimated he was detained for 90 minutes. And he has a court date.

“Things got out of hand,” he said. “Nobody was on their best behavior. That’s fair to say. A couple of people — and I include myself — behaved badly. That’s really what it amounts to. Nobody was hurt. Maybe a few egos were bruised.”

Kilauea Lower East Rift Zone Fissures and Flows, May 26 by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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