Security guard sent to protect Coco Palms declines to do so

When Stephan Bell, four other men and their field supervisor reported for work at Blue Knight Services, the security guard firm they work for in Lihue, on Thursday, they were instructed to go to the site of the former Coco Palms Resort and work to remove squatters.

None of these guards, Bell said, had followed the legal dispute over the occupation of Coco Palms by protesters, which has been in progress for more than a year. So, they dutifully drove up to Wailua.

When they arrived, Bell said, they confronted a situation they had never imagined. It mirrors the types of conflict many involved in the Coco Palms controversy have experienced. They stepped into the middle of a raid by dozens of police officers to evict the Coco Palms occupiers.

What they had been injected into, Bell said, was a controversy in which “we realized we didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history.”

He said that, as an African-American, he was personally sensitive to the depictions of oppression presented by the Coco Palms occupiers. It hit him very directly and very personally, he said.

Bell said the guards’ assignment was to secure the property after police removed the demonstrators and prepare for Coco Palms Hui, the owner of the property, to, essentially bulldoze the tents and other facilities the occupiers had used for the previous months.

What he and his co-workers saw, Bell said, brought to mind the same conflict many of the law enforcement officers on the scene apparently perceived. Repeatedly, Noa Mau-Espirito, one of the two men a court found to be on the property illegally along with a few dozen other occupiers, tried to engage the deputy sheriffs assigned to clear the property, as well as the private guards, and persuade them that the eviction order was in error.

The police and the guards quickly concluded that they were powerless to resolve that dispute. But, Bell and one deputy sheriff said, they realized there were cultural issues in play beyond the mere existence of a court order and instructions from supervisors to clear the occupiers and remove their property from the grounds.

Three sheriff’s deputies — all, they said, assigned to Kauai, but present as part of a force reinforced by personnel flown in from Oahu — remained calm, restrained and polite. No voices were raised and no physical force was used. The deputies refused to identify themselves by name, citing strict orders they said had been issued.

Mau-Espirito, for his part, encouraged occupiers not to hold the police and security guards responsible for the situation. “Remember,” he told his followers repeatedly, “these people are family. Don’t get in their face.”

Bell said that, not only was he unaware of the Coco Palms occupation, but, he said, “thousands of people who drive by” on Kuhio Highway nearby and tourists on Kuamoo Road — the gateway to Wailua State Park — are, and have been, oblivious to the controversy, too.

Even Thursday morning, Bell noted, cars full of tourists continued driving by, probably completely unaware of the drama playing out in front of them. For a while, the Kauai Police Department blocked all access to Kuamoo Road, making the state park beyond reach of the tourist throngs that usually visit.

KPD drove its large, truck-mounted mobile command post to a temporary “incident command center” up the Kuamoo Road and, for a couple of hours, presided over a literally occupied area. By mid-morning, however, the command post was removed, the road was reopened and hundreds of carloads of the curious started driving past the gate emblazoned with colorful Hawaiian independence banners.

Quickly after they arrived, Bell said, he and his colleagues — the others young men whose appearance suggested Hawaiian ancestry — concluded they had been asked to do something they could not, in good conscience, do. So, he said, they called their supervisor in Lihue and told him they could not continue the assignment.

To his surprise, Bell said the supervisor told the guards to “follow your conscience.” That meant, Bell said, that the five guards and the field supervisor officially ended their assignment. But they didn’t leave.

Instead, they approached Mau-Espirito and Hepa and described their dilemma. Police would not permit any of the occupiers on the Coco Palms property. So Bell and is colleagues asked the occupiers to describe any items of personal property present in the campsite that they wanted back. And the guards offered to try to find the items and bring them to their owners.

The sheriff’s deputies appeared to be fully aware of this arrangement and did nothing to interfere.

Bell said he didn’t even know who Blue Knight’s client was initially. Told it was Coco Palms Hui, he said he had not encountered anyone from the company. Neither Chad Waters nor Tyler Greene, the owners of Coco Palms Hui, appeared to be present. But from what Bell described, the owners apparently expected the guards to maintain a perimeter after the police left.

Since the guards had decided among themselves — with the blessing of their employer — to withdraw, it remained unclear Thursday afternoon whether Coco Palms had any alternative arrangements to keep the occupation from simply resuming. The protesters made no immediate move to do so, but their tents and other belongings remained, for the moment undisturbed.

10 Comments
  1. Larry February 23, 2018 4:10 am Reply

    I am surprised the sheriffs participated in the eviction. What’s really gonna happen if they as well refused? Remember the fast ferry? Strength in numbers


  2. Jake February 23, 2018 8:54 am Reply

    “But, Bell and one deputy sheriff said, they realized there were cultural issues in play beyond the mere existence of a court order and instructions from supervisors to clear the occupiers and remove their property from the grounds.”

    So, for a recap, …….your job is “security”, you were hired for “security”, and tasked to enforce a court order to “secure the area of squatters”. Yes, breaking the law.

    Yet, you make it about yourself (whatever race is convenient), and then include “cultural issues”??????????????????????????? No wonder nothing gets done on this island.

    Wanna know why this is going to happen again, and again, and again, and again, and again???????

    Because the County and the State will not ENFORCE anything! When you don’t enforce the law, then you have anarchy. This is not 1930s Germany, this is not club beating another race for a peaceful demonstration, this is not pushing the elderly out to be homeless with no care. This is a court ordered “You are here illegally and you need to get off the property”.

    Keystone cops at its definition. Calling back to their Boss in Lihue, and they get “follow your conscience”. Now there is leadership and solid decision making! I hope the Kauai taxpayers are not on the hook to pay this company.


    1. Jenn February 23, 2018 1:11 pm Reply

      Funny the comments so far don’t understand that “here illegally” being said to native Hawaiians by a court order of a legal system and government who overthrew the beloved (and legal) Hawaiian Monarchy 125 years ago –themselves “illegal” is fundamentally flawed. I am a Caucasian who moved here 15 years ago. I have educated myself to know the land that supports me here was wrongfully taken by self-serving business leaders who staged an underhanded coup. The karma then brought is all this mess, and the security guards of this article did follow their conscience having become aware of the bigger picture. I ask commenters to educate themselves before doing the follow the “law and order” spiel of the oppressor system.


    2. RV February 23, 2018 8:57 pm Reply

      Amen


  3. Shannon February 23, 2018 8:55 am Reply

    Obviously a security company that shouldn’t be in the security business.


    1. Shiney Granny February 23, 2018 6:57 pm Reply

      Loved this article. Love Kauai, more. <3


  4. Pomai February 23, 2018 1:17 pm Reply

    The big question who has the title???
    The warranty deed or the Allodial Title.
    Can I see that TREATY of annexation???


  5. Benehakaka February 23, 2018 2:32 pm Reply

    @Jake this land is not Coco Palms. Coco Palms is in the front where the rotted building is. The part of land is listed as “Ld.Ct.App.” and not an LCA. So let’s talk about what “Ld.Ct.App” means. It stands for Land Court Apportionment. After American business men used Americas soldiers to illegally annex Hawai’i these business men appointed themself as Judge and portuoned out crown lands to friends and supporters. Grover Cleveland sent a cease and desist letter to stop giving away crown lands and nothing was returned. This your American courts. This is your American justice system.


  6. debra kekaualua February 23, 2018 6:56 pm Reply

    Obviously, a lot of ignorant people who moved here think they are secure in this setting. The tide has only just begun to change. Truth and Integrity will prevail and transplants will be return delivered back to their birthplaces as will politicians and military mighty purp$


  7. Anuenue Kanahele February 24, 2018 9:09 am Reply

    Jake (aka CLUELESS BASTARD) Kauai is where “it gets done on Kanaka terms”. Do Hawaiians a favor and get off our land…. id love to hire these men to LEGALLY REMOVE YOU FROM THE KINGDOM OF HAWAII.

    Ignorance should be Mana Pa’i


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