A high-ranking official with the Honolulu Police Department responded to charges of police brutality Friday, saying it was actually the wind farm protesters who became unruly in Kalaeloa.
“The pushing and shoving was on the part of the crowd,” Deputy Chief John McCarthy said at a news conference. “You can hear them saying their beef is not with the policemen, the police officers, yet that’s what they are doing: They’re taking it out on the police officers.”
McCarthy singled out state Sen. Kurt Fevella (R, Ewa Beach- Iroquois Point), who was at the protest and had leveled his own accusations about police conduct.
“I think the senator was out of control last night, and I think that was pretty obvious by all the videos. I’ll let the videos speak for themselves. Go back and watch the videos. His conduct speaks for itself,” the deputy chief said.
Officers arrested 26 protesters for allegedly disobeying police orders. They were among the 200 people who converged on Kalaeloa on Thursday night to protest against the Na Pua Makani wind farm project being built in Kahuku.
Virginia-based AES Corp. is building eight wind turbines scheduled to start operating next year. The company said Thursday it has completed construction of the project’s first turbine and that it is more than halfway through its planned transport schedule, which will continue through Nov. 26.
To date, more than 150 arrests have been made since protests against the project started in mid-October when trucks began transporting parts from Kalaeloa to Kahuku.
Tensions over the project appear to be rising, and the latest protest in Kalaeloa represents the first time a physical confrontation has broken out between police and protesters since the demonstration began in October.
McCarthy said the latest protest was rowdier than ever before, as rocks were thrown at motorbike officers and another officer was punched in the side of the head.
“The officers out there exercised a great amount of restraint. They’ve had to tolerate a lot of taunting, a lot of threatening, a lot of actions on the part of these protesters who use terms like ‘kapu aloha’ which are nothing more than words to them, obviously. They are not exercising anything like that,” he said.
“We respect everyone’s right to protest, but there’s an issue of public safety and law enforcement. We’re out there to do a job.”
McCarthy said he’s hoping the actions by the protesters don’t escalate. “They have every right to be there and protest, but they have to protest within the rules of the law.”
In a news conference following McCarthy’s statements, Kahuku protesters questioned the deputy chief, saying they were unaware of any of the incidents he described and had not seen any video evidence.
“We appreciate the police presence for our community’s safety and would like to clarify that there were a few officers instigating aggression towards the crowd. We’d like to bring this information forward to Deputy Chief of Police McCarthy and set the record straight,” Neva Fotu said in a news release.
She added that it is the intent of the Kahuku community to safely exercise its First Amendment rights. “The best way to de-escalate the situation is to get the facts straight,” she said.
At the scene, Fevella acknowledged that he was angry after witnessing a handful of officers pushing and shoving female protesters and one officer trying to provoke him personally.
“That kind of officers don’t belong here, period,” he said. “That kind of guys, right there, is the one agitated. They bring him to cause problems. Nobody was having any problems until he came. I don’t know what district he from, but he has no idea of what he’s (doing).”
Fevella’s wife, Donnalee Fevella, was among more than 25 protesters arrested by police on the night of Oct. 20 for attempting to prevent trucks carrying turbine parts from departing Kalaeloa.
Of the 26 people taken into custody, 21 people were arrested for disobeying a police officer, one person was arrested for disobedience and resisting arrest, one person was arrested for disobedience and a warrant and three people were arrested for harassment of a police officer, according to police spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
All were released after posting bail that ranged from $100 to $1,000.
Raya Salter, an energy and environmental attorney who was acting as a legal observer at the latest protest, said in a written statement that “the force from the bikes used by police caused many community members to fall back in to each other. Several people, including several women, were pushed onto the ground.”
Salter alleged that one woman had her arm pulled from its socket. In a phone interview, Salter said the woman told her she was standing on the bottom of the slope with her arms linked with other protesters when bicycle officers pushed against them. “Her arm kind of got stuck between people falling,” Salter said.
She also claimed several people were trampled. “The aggressive tactics of the Honolulu Police Department endangered the public and caused injury to several individuals,” Salter said.
Facebook videos showed that after the arrests were made, officers barricaded the driveway used by the truck convoy and came face-to-face with the protesters. Police ordered the crowd to move back.
The standoff quickly led to shoving and peaked when one protester dropped to the ground and was arrested by a group of officers.
The turbine parts were moved shortly afterward.
McCarthy said he watched live feeds of the protest in the early morning and then spent several hours later Friday reviewing various online videos. He said he did not see any impropriety from officers.
He added that the department would not be releasing any of its own videos of the incident.
“There are so many videos out there. It would be senseless at this time to add to that barrage of videos,” he said. “All of the videos I looked at, the crowd was pushing further and further and the officers had to stand in line. The line is there for safety reasons. They were asked repeatedly to move back.”
McCarthy said he saw officers asking the crowd over and over again to move back, but the crowd pushed forward instead.
“At that point several of the people made contact with our officers. One of the bicycles was damaged, resulting in three people being arrested for harassment,” he said.
McCarthy said the officers were extremely tolerant and maintained their professionalism. “They were doing a tremendous job,” he said.
None of the people arrested reported injuries or requested medical treatment, officials said.
“Anyone with evidence of officer misconduct or unprofessional behavior is encouraged to file a report with the Honolulu Police Commission or the HPD Professional Standards Office so that the allegations can be investigated,” Yu said.
Opponents of the wind farm project say the turbines lead to health problems and are too close to homes, farms and schools. Demonstrators also say the turbines threaten the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat.
AES contend the turbines will have no health effects.
In a written statement, Verla Moore, community liaison for AES’ Na Pua Makani project, said, “We respect the protesters’ right to voice their opinions about the project and act in Kapu Aloha. We take our commitment seriously to answer their questions, address their concerns and find the most meaningful way to give back to the community.”
Star-Advertiser reporter Mark Ladao contributed to this story.