Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira had the legal authority to request police officers from other counties to help maintain order on Maunakea during 2019 protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope, the state Intermediate Court of Appeals said Wednesday in an opinion upholding a ruling by 3rd Circuit Court Judge Henry Nakamoto.
The 19-page opinion noted that since police officers from the Honolulu and Maui police departments were on Maunakea at Ferreira’s request, their presence didn’t violate that portion of Hawaii statutes that allows police officers from one county to pursue an investigation that started in their county into another county.
Approximately 60 Honolulu police officers and an unknown number of Maui officers joined in the effort to maintain order.
“It was Chief Ferreira who asked the other chiefs to send officers to Hawaii Island to assist HCPD in handling matters on Hawaii Island that strained HCPD’s resources,” Associate Judge Keith Hiraoka wrote. “The presence of HPD and MPD police officers on Hawaii Island to support HCPD’s TMT-related operations, at the request and under the supervision of the Chief of the HCPD, was a valid exercise of police power under the Hawaii County Charter, HRS Chapter 52, and HRS § 78-27.”
The road was blocked from July 16 to Dec. 26, 2019, by protesters, who call themselves “kia‘i,” or “protectors,” opposed to construction of the telescope on Maunakea. The groups agreed to stand down, at least temporarily, while negotiations continued.
Plaintiff E. Kalani Flores said in court filings his rights as a Native Hawaiian to go up the mountain to conduct cultural practices were infringed upon by the police presence.
“The government has prevented Mr. Flores from accessing Mauna Kea and closed the road to kanaka maoli and the public, yet it permitted employees of the telescopes to travel the same road,” a July 13, 2019, complaint states. “As of the filing of the Complaint, citizens have been arrested near Pu’u Huluhulu and Mauna Kea Access road whilst they exercise their rights to assemble, free speech, religion, and their traditional and customary rights, such as pule and oli.”
The complaint named Ferreira, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu as defendants.
The stepped-up traffic enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway by officers assigned to the TMT blockade and encampment on Maunakea Access Road netted 8,234 citations and 78 people arrested for 143 offenses from Aug. 15 to Dec. 18, 2019. The county accepted $5.3 million from the state as reimbursement for police overtime costs incurred.
Peter Olson, a Kona-Waimea attorney representing Flores, said an appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court is likely.
“We respectfully disagree with the decision,” Olson said Friday. “We look forward to briefing the Supreme Court.”
Hawaii County Deputy Corporation Counsel Kaena Horowitz said the court made the right call.
“We are pleased with that decision,” Horowitz said. “It confirms that Chief Ferreira acted properly when he requested assistance from other police chiefs.”