Hawaii Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over County Police Jurisdiction

The ability of county police departments to quickly deploy resources to other counties in the state is in the hands of the Hawaii Supreme Court, which heard argument on Thursday in a case challenging the presence of police officers from Honolulu and Maui on Mauna Kea during telescope protests in 2019.

During the protests, Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira made deals with former Honolulu and Maui police chiefs to send officers and help control the growing crowds opposing the telescope of thirty meters.

E. Kalani Flores, a cultural practitioner, has brought action against the three police chiefs to stop the deployment of officers off the island to Mauna Kea under a law that would generally prohibit officers from exercising their powers police in another county unless they are in the middle of an ongoing investigation.

The Hawaii Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers on a police jurisdiction case in a virtual hearing Thursday. Screenshot

The Circuit Court dismissed the case in favor of the counties and the Intermediate Court of Appeals said in February that the law should not apply to the case.

Lawyer Peter Olson attempted to convince the state’s highest court on Thursday that the law should apply in the case and that the counties were wrong to use it to further enforce the law in Mauna Kea .

“Lawmakers have not considered or planned for county police outside the island to go to another jurisdiction at the request of a local chief, unless of course there is an investigation,” said Olson.

The judges took the case under advisement.

County prosecutors and a national group of government lawyers fear that passage of the reading of the law by Olson could hamper the county’s response to natural disasters or other emergencies in the future.

They said counties have often helped each other in times of emergency, and this case is no different. Lerisa Heroldt, assistant legal counsel for Hawaii County, said this was the first time the Hawaii Supreme Court had addressed the issue.

Olson said the government has other tools to respond to disasters, including the governor’s emergency powers or asking the legislature to change the law in a way that favors counties.

Heroldt said in disaster situations, like hurricanes or flooding, it could take too long.

“Politicians take a long time to make a decision to announce an emergency. Our law enforcement needs to be able to act quickly and have a lot of flexibility, ”she said, adding that the Big Island, Maui and Kauai police departments are much smaller than the HPD.

“We saw the Kilauea eruption, we saw the flooding on Kauai (during Hurricane) Iniki,” Heroldt said. “These are all cases where the counties had to help each other.”

Based on questions posed by judges on Thursday, the state’s Supreme Court does not appear to be ready to place strict limits on how county police departments can send officers to other islands.

“Are you saying – let’s say there’s terrorist action in Lihue – that Hawaii County or Maui County can’t go out there and help?” It’s essentially the logical extension of your argument, ”Associate Judge Todd Eddins asked Olson.

Olson said county police can still respond to these emergencies. They would only have to ask the governor to suspend the laws that he said would prevent them from doing so.

The question is also whether or not Flores should sue the government in this situation. Peter Hanano, deputy legal counsel for Maui County, argued that citizens should not have this right.

“If you start allowing individuals to attack this law, you could find yourself in a situation where police would investigate across the county… and an individual could challenge that investigation,” Hanano said.

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