HILO — The Hawaii County Police Commission on Friday found insufficient evidence to support the allegations in a complaint made by a retired Hawaii Police Department sergeant concerning enhanced traffic enforcement that occurred on Daniel K. Inouye Highway between Aug. 15 and Thursday.
The complainant, Juergen Canda, said the enforcement — which resulted in 8,000 traffic citations and 70-plus arrests before the decision was announced Thursday for a stand-down by law enforcement — was aimed at quelling protests of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea Access Road.
He compared the operation on the cross-island highway, also known as Saddle Road, to police tactics at Standing Rock in North Dakota, where Native Americans and environmentalists protested en masse against an oil pipeline project.
“Any rational analysis of this unprecedented traffic enforcement effort only leads to one logical conclusion — that it was conducted for the goals of the strategy that’s been employed in many states in America,” Canda told commissioners. “The enforcement effort alone can oftentimes create greater sanctions and monetary impacts than arrests of those participating in the protests alone. … This is a goal and benefit of such a plan. Because now you have a reason to arrest, remove and discourage persons from participating in a protected activity.”
Opponents of the $1.4 billion observatory project have occupied Maunakea Access Road near the highway since mid-July, thwarting plans to start construction of the telescope by blocking construction workers and trucks from scaling the mountain. The protesters, who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors of the mountain, have effectively controlled access of the mountain with fewer than the estimated 3,000 present July 17, when 38 arrests — mostly of kupuna or elders — were made for obstructing the road.
Canda, who served 26 years in the department and was promoted to lieutenant in 2013 before taking a voluntary demotion to sergeant to take an opening closer to his home, said the enforcement was aimed at Native Hawaiians, many of whom consider the mountain sacred. He described it as “systemic racism” and “simply beyond the pale.”
“When I joined this department, we had a horrible reputation … and relationship with the public,” he said. “Twenty-five years we’ve put into building what we have now. It’s being sacrificed for the stupid telescope. They’re using us as a mercenary force or something. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s destroying our community relations. I’m not here about the telescope. I’m here about the legacy of 25 years.”
Chief Paul Ferreira — who had the option of testifying before a closed-door session because Canda’s complaint was a misconduct allegation — chose, as did Canda, to testify publicly.
Ferreira said that during the four months of the traffic enforcement operation, Canda’s complaint was the only one brought before the commission or to his office. The chief also disputed the allegation the enforcement effort was aimed at Native Hawaiians or protesters.
“At no time did we ever target the Hawaiian community. In fact, it was specifically stated we do not go after people who are flying Hawaiian flags, we do not go after these type of individuals,” Ferreira said. “We did not criminalize these people.
“… Juergen Canda is a retired law enforcement officer from the Hawaii County Police Department. He knows full well the process by which you can make a complaint against any officer in the department, any member of the department. Yet, to this date, other than a complaint made against me for this, there has been no complaints filed against any of our officers for any of the traffic stops that we conducted.”
Ferreira said the public should be appalled that the enforcement on the highway resulted in 22 drunken driving arrests.
“How did we end up with 22 DUI arrests on the mountain, on Daniel K. Inouye Highway?” Ferreira asked. “We’re not talking about a roadway that goes from Joe’s Bar to 27th or Main Street. We’re talking a roadway that’s a 60 mile-an-hour roadway that traverses the entire island. There’s no bar up there. There’s no bar that’s even in a close proximity. Yet, we arrested 22 individuals for drunk driving. In other words, 22 people were over the limit. We’ve had, I believe, 54 child-restraint citations. Think about it — you’ve got 54 kids who are riding on a 60-mile-an-hour roadway that are illegal.
“That is what the community should be appalled at. That is what Juergen Canda should be here complaining about — why is this happening?”
Maj. Samuel Jelsma, the commander in charge of the Maunakea operation, denied that the enforcement was “a tactical military operation.”
“Ultimately, this is my operation and, unfortunately, the chief is getting a lot of flak from this operation. There’s a lot of misinformation out in the public,” Jelsma said. He added that officers assigned to the protest area needed to do “what they do, and traffic enforcement is something that police do on a daily basis.”
“While we were waiting for things to happen, inactivity is putting out the message that the police are weak,” he said. “… We’re getting all these complaints, we’re just sitting there, officers are getting paid overtime. And the worst thing that could happen, in my mind … while we’re having this pause in operations, is we get a traffic fatality on Saddle Road. If we get a traffic fatality on Saddle Road, the public is going to point the finger at the police and say, ‘What are the police doing up there? You’ve got all these officers up here, and we have a traffic fatality because the police aren’t doing nothing.’
“… Our enhanced enforcement ended (Thursday) and (on Friday), a car flipped over on Saddle Road. … While we were doing this enforcement, there was not one fatality on Saddle Road,” Jelsma said.
Gov. David Ige said Monday the state has “spent about $15 million in trying to provide safe and secure access for Maunakea.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.