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Hawaii lawmaker decries ‘aggressive’ police tactics as 26 wind farm protesters arrested in Kalaeloa

A Hawaii lawmaker says at least three officers were aggressive against wind farm protesters in Kalaeloa overnight when 26 people were arrested for allegedly disobeying police orders.

Honolulu Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy said there was no aggression by the police officers whose actions were prompted by protesters.

More than 200 people converged on Kalaeloa Thursday night and early this morning to protest against the Na Pua Makani wind farm project being built in Kahuku. Virginia-based AES Corp. is building eight wind turbines which are slated to start operating next year. Each turbine is 568 feet tall.

Mark Miller, chief operating officer for the AES U.S. Generation businesses, said in a written statement Thursday that the company has completed construction of the project’s first turbine and that they are more than halfway through their planned transport schedule, which will continue through Nov. 26.

To date, more than 150 people have been arrested since protests against the project started in mid-October when trucks began transporting parts from Kalaeloa to Kahuku.

The latest protest in Kalaeloa is the first time a physical confrontation broke out between police and protesters since the demonstration began in October.

Of the 26 people arrested in Kalaeloa overnight, 21 were cited for disobeying a police officer, one person was arrested for disobedience and resisting arrest, one person was arrested for disobedience and an outstanding warrant, and three 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.

There were no arrests in Kahuku today.

Raya Salter, an energy and environmental attorney who was described as a legal observer at the latest protest in the Kalaeloa, 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.”

Demonstrators have been gathering on dirt mounds or slopes next to the driveway in Kalaeloa. The mounds are described as slippery.

Salter alleged that one woman had her arm pulled from its socket. In a phone interview today, 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 over. “The aggressive tactics of the Honolulu Police Department endangered the public and caused injury to several individuals,” Salter said.

Videos on the ʻAʻole wind turbines Facebook page showed that after the arrests were made, officers barricading the driveway used by the truck convoy came face-to-face with protesters. Police ordered protesters 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.

Turbine parts were moved shortly afterward.

State Sen. Kurt Fevella (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), who opposes the wind farm project, was at the Kalaeloa protest and said at least three officers shoved female protesters.

He alleged that the officers then used bikes to push protesters. Fevella said one of the bike handle bars pressed against a woman’s rib cage. “I started yelling. I just got angry,” he added. “There was no reason for them to shove.”

He also recalled one of the protesters slid down a mound and onto her back in the commotion.

In response to the allegations, McCarthy said, “There’s no aggression by the police officers. It’s defensive.”

“They violated their own rules of kapu aloha last night,” he said, referring to the demonstrators’ stated policy of peaceful protest.

In a written statement, Yu said, “As they have done since mid-October, HPD officers issued multiple warnings prior to and at 11 p.m. for protesters to vacate the roadway.”

Most of the estimated 200 protesters complied, Yu said. Over the next two hours, the 23 people who remained on the roadway were arrested for disobeying a police officer.

After the 23 arrests, officers repeatedly instructed the crowd to move behind a yellow police tape. Yu added: “This is for the public’s safety, as the bicycle officers actually stand in front of the yellow tape and use their bodies and the bicycles as physical barriers to protect the crowd from being pushed into the road as the trucks and heavy equipment drive by.”

She noted the crowd began yelling and shouting at officers and ignoring repeated instructions to move behind the yellow tape. “Dozens of protesters refused to move back or to the side and were told that they would be subject to arrest. Shortly after 1 a.m., three protesters were arrested for harassment on a police officer,” Yu said.

None of the people arrested reported injuries or requested medical treatment.

“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 today, 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.”