LIHU‘E — In these hard economic times, a large chunk of Kaua‘i’s workforce may be a mere paycheck away from becoming homeless. Yet, many homeless persons feel marginalized in our society and harassed by law enforcement officers.
Alfred Darrel Caley and Charles Kingston, both with no permanent address, recently circulated a petition among island residents asking them to take a stand against unfair treatment of homeless persons.
“Stop Police Harassment of People who are Homeless” has gathered 664 signatures so far. Caley said the petition was crafted with the help of staff at Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i in Lihu‘e.
“The police should be helping us instead of trying to exploit us like animals and like we are less than humans,” said Kingston in a written statement Oct. 13 to the Kaua‘i Police Commission. “We are people too, we are not expandable. The police should be working with us, not running us around like cattle.”
Kingston said he is a witness to a KPD officer telling Caley he was willing to buy him a plane ticket to return to the mainland.
Caley filed a complaint on Oct. 14 with the commission, the day after he alleges the KPD officer made the offer. Caley could not name the officer.
Deputy County Attorney Justin Kollar, however, said “KPD does not finance the purchase of plane tickets for homeless individuals.”
Commission Chair Charles Iona said in a written response to Caley that the commission would review the complaint in closed session during its meeting today.
The commission will also review a separate complaint today — again in closed session — in which Caley says an officer, also unnamed, has been harassing him without reason by telling him to leave the “city park” (Lihu‘e Historic District) and not go to the parking lot of the bowling alley.
“(The) police officer has repeatedly threatened to arrest me if I go to the parking lot of the bowling alley to play chess,” said Caley in the complaint, adding that his church, the Breath of Life, shares the same lot.
“This officer is selectively enforcing loitering rules and choosing to harass me, even though I have not caused any disruptions by my presence either at the county building park or at the bowling alley,” he wrote in the complaint.
In an earlier complaint to the commission, filed Aug. 17, Caley alleges he was blocked from going to 7-Eleven because Kingston gave chips to the chickens.
Caley said he went into 7-Eleven to buy a bento plate while Kingston fed chips to the chickens outside. Both left without any complaints, according to Caley.
Two hours later a KPD officer approached the men at the Lihu‘e Historic District and had them sign no-trespassing papers, meaning that if Caley and Kingston went back to 7-Eleven they would be arrested.
Caley, with a tape recorder in hand, went back to 7-Eleven, but none of the workers seemed to know that he or Kingston were barred from going there.
On a different recording, Caley and Kingston are caught at 7-Eleven by the same officer who made them sign the no-trespassing papers.
Caley recorded the incident.
The officer tells the men they were not supposed to be there, but Caley replies that no employee in the store knows of the no-trespassing order.
The officer goes inside the store, and the outcome is indeciphrable on the tape.
The commission reviewed Caley’s complaint on Sept. 30 at its monthly meeting.
“Based on the information received, the commission found that there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegation and forwarded your complaint to the Chief of Police for further review and investigation if deemed necessary,” Iona wrote in a response to Caley.
On Oct. 19 Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. wrote a letter to Caley and Kingston, stating that he had received the petition. County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said Carvalho did not sign the petition.
He did sign two bills the council unanimously approved on Oct. 19, Tokioka said.
One of the bills bans drinking alcohol or possessing open containers of alcohol on the grounds immediately adjacent to the Historic County Building. The other bill outlaws urinating and defecating in the same area.
Violating each of the new laws could mean fines up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.
Some of the people who testified at the council meeting thought the bills targeted the homeless. When the bills were still in first reading, Council Chair Jay Furfaro, who introduced both bills, said the bills were not targeting the homeless, but everyone who would break the law.
On a letter to Carvalho, Caley asked for the creation of an outdoor area for the homeless, where they can rest, use portable toilets and be allowed to drink alcohol.
“The truth is that the prohibition on open alcohol containers is an excuse for police officers to harass people of their choice, including people who are homeless,” said Caley, adding that an outdoor area for the homeless would go a long way to curtail police harassment.
On his written response to Caley, Carvalho states homelessness is a global issue and a growing concern for government officials.
“We are aware of the difficulty that displaced people face in this tight economy,” Carvalho said in the letter. “However, it is the responsibility of the Kaua‘i Police Department to ensure the public’s safety and to protect all citizens — whether homeless, a visitor or a resident.”
The state of Hawai‘i, he said, realizes the homeless people need a place to stay.
“We are working to find churches and shelters to house those in need,” Carvalho said. “Living in parks or unauthorized camping is not the solution.”
Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity has an emergency shelter in Lihu‘e, permitted to take up to 19 people per night, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The shelter is open daily from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., and guest are accepted between 5 and 8 p.m. But people can only stay up to six weeks, according to KEO homeless and housing director Stephanie Fernandes.
Carvalho suggested that Caley contacts KEO to use the shelter.
Caley, however, said he cannot utilize the shelter because he has a history of violence and armed robbery, plus a felony conviction on the Mainland, related to possession of prescription pain killers.
But Caley says drugs and violence are a thing of the past for him. He just wants a place where he can rest in peace. After all, he said, he won’t be around much longer.
“I’m lucky if I have 10 more years,” said Caley, adding that he developed emphysema because of exposure to asbestos. The disease will likely allow him only a few more years of life, he said.
Kollar said KPD does not condone harassment or brutality against homeless individuals, takes complaints seriously and will investigate any formal complaint.
“KPD values its relationship with the community and recognizes that trust will be the foundation of our shared success,” he said.
Kollar also said that it is important to keep in mind that KPD personnel sometimes deal with transient, disadvantaged individuals who face significant life challenges.
“Those challenges sometimes manifest as antisocial behavior, which we are then tasked to respond to in a compassionate manner,” Kollar said. “KPD personnel are trained to recognize and respond in an appropriate manner.”
KPD officers recognize their responsibility to diligently contribute to the “peace, safety, and wholesome culture” of Kaua‘i, said Kollar, adding that KPD personnel volunteer a lot of time to charity, working with “less fortunate” citizens and supporting nonprofit organizations.
“KPD is committed to protecting and serving all members of our community without regard to economic or social status,” he said. “We are proud to further our mission statement on a daily basis.”
The commission will happen today at the Mo‘ikeha Building, room 2A/2B at 9 a.m.
Visit www.keoinc.org or www.kauai.gov for more information.