Hawai‘i County Police on Saturday arrested five individuals for violating COVID-19 protocols as part of a gathering at Kahalu‘u Beach Park in West Hawai‘i.
HPD Assistant Chief Robert Wagner said officers responded to a report of roughly two dozen people gathered under the large oceanside pavilion in the park. Michelle Melendez, who organized the gathering, described the event as a “peaceful Hawai‘i Health Summit.” A flyer promoting the event, which was scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, noted several planned speakers and discussion topics including “Is there science behind face masks?” and the “Health risks of 5G.”
Wagner said when police arrived at around 5 p.m., they observed approximately 30 people under the pavilion. Police reported none of the individuals were wearing face masks or social distancing, both of which are new rules required under emergency proclamations issued by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim and Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige.
“Upon contact with these individuals, officers attempted to educate these parties on the most recent Governor’s Emergency Proclamation,” Wagner said. “However, they refused to listen or comply with the officers. Officers then began to issue citations, where the crowd then became belligerent and hostile.”
“Officers then requested additional units to their location,” Wagner continued. “Once additional officers were on scene, they began arresting all individuals who were in violation of the Emergency Proclamation, therefore causing others to disperse. All five individuals were arrested and charged with (multiple) offenses.”
Police charged Gene Tamashiro, M-53 of Hilo; Stefanie Nolff, F-48 of Kea‘au; Diane Fischer, F-65 of Kailua-Kona; Melody Harris, F-60 of Kailua-Kona; and Michaele Medearis, F-53, of Holualoa with the following offenses:
- Emergency Proclamation (Excess of 10 people); Bail: $2,000
- Failure to Disperse; Bail: $500
- Emergency Proclamation (No Mask); Bail: $2,000
- Emergency Proclamation (<6 Feet); Bail: $2,000
Melendez disputed the police’s version of events.
“We had just finished the ending prayer and were about to leave when (three) cops came. I was packing up and people were staying,” Melendez said. “They called in 22 cops in 15 cop cars speeding down Ali‘i (Drive) with their sirens and lights on. This was not an emergency.”
Contrary to police remarks, Melendez claims there was no communication between officers and the crowd before arrests were effected.
“There were more cops than people by the time all the officers got out of their cars. They were standing there not saying a word to us,” she said. “Once they all were there they walked toward us and started grabbing people and arresting them. They didn’t say a word.”
Melendez did not dispute police assertions that those gathered at the beach park failed to wear masks and socially distance, but she did dispute the characterization of her group’s actions Saturday as illegal.
“They were charged with not wearing a mask, not social distancing, gathering with more than 10 people, and not dispersing. These are not laws,” she said. “They should have been processed and let go that night but instead had a $6,500 bail. Peaceful people, no weapons, no harm to anyone. We were at a public beach.”
All four women had been bailed out as of Sunday, Melendez said, while Tamashiro chose to remain in jail until he is arraigned.
To date, there have been 340 cases of COVID-19 identified on the Big Island and more than 8,300 statewide. Hilo Medical Center reported two coronavirus-related deaths Sunday, the first two on the Big Island since health officials began tracking the pandemic in late February. At least 63 people statewide had died of coronavirus-related illness as of noon Sunday. Most were elderly and suffered from underlying health issues.
Mayor Kim said he would not issue a new lockdown on the Big Island where cases have surged in recent days, but did promise stricter police enforcement for those not following COVID-19 rules, which are authorized via emergency proclamations at the county and state level. Saturday’s arrests at Kahalu‘u Beach Park constituted the first major coronavirus-related police endeavor since the mayor announced enforcement would increase.
“We are starting a peaceful Hawai‘i Freedom Walk on Saturdays at 3 p.m. at (Queen Ka‘ahumanu) Highway and Henry Street to protest this action, as well as the unlawful mandates,” Melendez said. “We will be six feet apart in silence with our signs. To learn more go to http://Hawaiifreedomwalk.com.”
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