LIHUE — Kauai police arrested three Westside men Wednesday morning at Salt Pond Beach Park for illegal camping. One of them insists it was nothing more than harassment, and said state and county officials have been targeting them for months.
Two of the three men arrested were bailed out by friends that morning, but Joseph Kaneapua was forced to remain in custody and appear before a judge that afternoon for a three-year-old bench warrant issued after he didn’t show up to court for a traffic citation in 2016.
That charge, along with several others he picked up earlier this year for illegal camping and failing to appear in court, were dropped at the request of a county prosecutor, who told the judge the state intended to dismiss all of Kaneapua’s pending cases, “in the interest of justice.”
Kaneapua, 37, spoke with The Garden Island about the arrests and his ongoing conflict with county and state officials outside the Fifth Circuit courthouse Wednesday afternoon.
“Just like they tell us, we can sleep on the beach with our keikis, and that’s all we were doing,” he said. “I have no more home. I have four kids and a wife.”
Kaneapua said his children, ages 17, 15, 10 and 8, were left to fend for themselves after police took him from his home early Wednesday morning, something his friend and political activist, Rhoda Libre, described as criminal behavior.
“They cannot do that,” she said. “It’s reckless endangerment, what they do.”
Libre, executive director of the Westside Watershed Council, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting Kauai’s natural resources, notified TGI about the arrests and talked about what she feels has been a prolonged campaign against hanakaumaka pu‘uhonua at Salt Pond.
“The county and the state have been killing our reef through the park. That’s why we started taking care of the park,” Libre said, citing damaged coral and foul-smelling water she says are the result of sewage runoff from poorly maintained county facilities.
Kaneapua said police and county officials have harassed and intentionally targeted him in recent months, something he suspects is related to a controversial county Parks and Recreation Department proposal that would turn over stewardship of a one-acre parcel of land near Salt Pond Beach Park to a local hula school.
The stewardship agreement drew public outcry from dozens of Westside residents at a Kauai County Council hearing last December, and plans have since stalled.
But the subject remains a sore spot for many kanaka who camp, live, farm and harvest salt in the area and insist they have no need for the county to sanction stewardship for land they and their ancestors have maintained on their own for generations.
“You got plenty soldiers, but you need that one antenna,” Kaneapua said. “I became that antenna.”
A county spokesperson in an email Wednsday disputed Kaneapua’s claim that he was intentionally targeted, and other campers that morning were asked to vacate the park and did so willingly.
A county press release said Department of Parks and Recreation officials issued multiple verbal warnings and written citations to the “unpermitted campers” prior to the arrests that morning, and notified them Salt Pond Beach Park would be off-limits for camping from Tuesday to Wednesday for “scheduled maintenance.”
A statement from Kauai Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck said campers were told to vacate the premises during that time to allow county officials to “clean for sanitary purposes.”
But Kaneapua said he and the other men arrested are regulating their own community and have been keeping the park up on their own without county interference.
According to Kaneapua, Salt Pond Beach Park was once a hangout for drug addicts, a problem he and other community leaders have tried to combat.
“As the years progressed, there was plenty crystal meth users,” he said. “And today zero. Zero. And I’m proud of that number. Only family and kids over here.”
According to Raybuck’s statement, the arrests were made “due to violations of park rules that are in place to protect public health.” He said police “will continue to enforce the rules so that Salt Pond Beach Park can continue to be enjoyed by the entire community.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.