HONOLULU (AP) — Cases are being dismissed against the people who were arrested or cited for violating an emergency rule aimed at stopping telescope protesters from camping on the Big Island's Mauna Kea, Hawaii County's top prosecutor said Tuesday.
Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth said his office dropped cases against the 14 people arrested and six people cited. One case involving an arrested protester had previously been dismissed, he said.
Roth said he made the decision out of respect for a judge's ruling last week invalidating the state's emergency rule that prohibited being within a mile of the Mauna Kea access road between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., unless in a moving vehicle. The rule also prohibited, at any time, sleeping bags, camping stoves, tents and propane burners on the mountain.
Protesters against building the Thirty Meter Telescope near the mountain's summit had been holding around-the-clock vigil in an attempt to stop workers from resuming construction. Work has been stalled since April amid the protests.
The state's land board passed the emergency rule during a heated meeting in July. At the meeting, the state's attorney general said a targeted rule — even though camping is already prohibited on the mountain — was needed to maintain safety.
A lawsuit argued the rule is illegal and prevented telescope opposition at the expense of Native Hawaiian cultural practices and public expression. Those opposed to the telescope cite how the mountain is sacred to many Native Hawaiians.
Dropping the charges is the right thing to do, said David Kauila Kopper, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation attorney who filed the lawsuit. "However, it does not make up for the unreasonable chilling effect and adverse impact it has had on Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and the public," he said in a statement.
Kuuipo Freitas, among those arrested for violating the rule last month, said the state shouldn't have enforced the rule while the lawsuit was pending. "It's ridiculous," she said. "It was still in the courts, and they went ahead and made arrests. In the end, it didn't make them look good at all."
She was in the middle of praying when officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources went up to the mountain to arrest her, six other women and a man in the early morning hours of Sept. 9.
Dozens of protesters have been arrested during two attempts to resume construction. Roth's office also moved to dismiss trespassing charges against 10 people.
"We still have other cases not applicable to the emergency rule that we are still moving forward with," Roth said.
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