Hawaii’s shameful black eye is its inability to protect one of the state’s most precious historic sites, Iolani Palace — the only royal palace in the United States.
In the last seven years there have been 13 security breaches at the palace or on the palace grounds. Some of the incidents have resulted in the destruction of irreplaceable treasures.
It is time for the state to get some spine — to hold the palace transgressors accountable.
If this kind of destruction and disregard took place at a royal palace in France or England, the people would be furious, the vandals and trespassers probably sent to prison.
Here in Hawaii, state officials seem to treat the disregard for the law at Iolani Palace by Native Hawaiians as political free-speech events.
Most of the perpetrators have gotten off the hook with minor misdemeanor trespassing convictions, if any convictions at all.
In the latest incident at Iolani Place on February 8, suspect Drew Puamaeʻole Paʻahao told police she had kicked in a palace window to break into the palace with her boyfriend, Koa Alii Keaulana because it was “my house.”
Two days later, Paʻahao, 21, proudly posted her police arrest mug shot on her Facebook page.
Paʻahao’s Facebook friend, Linda Jones, posted a question to Paʻahao on the social networking site, asking: “Why destroy your own house? Shame on you.”
I have the same question. If the palace is an important part of Hawaiian history, why do you want to wreck it?
Friends of Iolani Palace Executive Director Kippen de Alba Chu says the front door glass panel that Paʻahao is accused of smashing is irreplaceable. King Kalakaua ordered the panel from England, and had it etched in San Francisco to be finished in time for the grand opening of Iolani Palace in 1882.
Vandals have destroyed etched glass panels in the Iolani Palace front door three times before. Chu says the first time was during WW II, then in 1984 someone kicked in the glass, and in 1991, another person threw a rock through a panel.
The 13 past security incidents at Iolani Palace include four break-ins at the palace, and two occupations of the palace grounds when Hawaiian sovereignty groups locked palace gates and blocked other people from entering.
During one of the occupations, Noelani Ah Yuen, Iolani Palace’s facilities manager, was injured when two occupiers slammed an iron gate into her back. Ah Yuen was taken to Queen’s Medical Center and was unable to return to work for two weeks while she recovered.
In addition, Hawaiian sovereignty activists on two different occasions forced their way into the Kanaʻina Building on the palace grounds. The Kanaʻina building is the administrative headquarters for palace operations. Each time, the activists refused to leave until the law enforcement officials arrived and they were threatened with arrest.
A complete list of all the palace incidents appears at the end of this column.
The February 8 suspect, Paʻahao, was a former star on the girls’ baseball team at Kaiser High School. Both Keaulana and the 30 year-old Paʻahao have prior criminal convictions.
A security camera outside the palace filmed them walking up to the front door. Security cameras inside the palace taped them walking in through the front door. But there is no video of Paʻahao kicking in the glass panel. Chu says a palace column blocked the security camera from capturing that image.
Keaulana and Paʻahao were arrested on suspicion of criminal property damage and criminal trespass, but released pending investigation. They have not been charged yet.
Chu says, “I am hoping the charges against the two are severe. It they get off with a slap on the wrist, that will embolden other people who want to do the same thing.”
Christopher Young, supervisor of the Criminal Justice Division of the Attorney General’s office says, “A crime occurred. We got the police report yesterday (February 19). We will review the report to see if there is enough evidence for charges.”
The Attorney General’s office is handling the case because the incident occurred on state property.
Young says the case is a priority for the Attorney General’s office. He has assigned the case to Deputy Attorney General Mike Kagami.
In an emailed statement, Princess Abigail Kawananakoa said, “the recent vandalism is not the first crime against the palace but it has to be the last. Unless we no longer care enough about Hawaii’s history to preserve it, these criminals should face the full weight of the felonies they have committed and not a misdemeanor slap on the wrist.”
Kawananakoa is the grandniece of Queen Kapiolani. She was the president of the Friends of Iolani Palace for 29 years.
Activists who have invaded the Palace before have avoided jail time.
On August 15, 2008, Maui resident James Kimo Akahi and 22 followers locked the Iolani Palace gates and took over the Palace grounds. Akahi called himself “The King of Hawaii.” Akahi and his group, the Kingdom of Hawaii Nation, broke into the palace with the intention, they said, of chaining Akahi to the throne. I covered that story for KITV. Akahi told me and other reporters the next day the only reason he didn’t sit on the throne was he couldn’t find it.
Court records showed Akahi had 20 prior criminal convictions. He and his followers were arrested but Akahi was the only one to stand trial. He was found innocent of a felony burglary charge but ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for a lesser conviction of misdemeanor trespassing.
It was during Akahi’s invasion that palace employee Noelani Ah Yuen was injured. Two men were arrested for shoving her but they were acquitted of assault charges.
On April 30, 2008, a group calling itself the Hawaiian Kingdom Government led by a woman named Mahealani Kahau, chained and locked the gates to Iolani Palace grounds. They put up signs saying “Warning! No Trespassing. This is Private Property,” and prevented all non-Hawaiians from entering for eight hours. This meant the State Archives, which are on the palace grounds could not be opened for business. The palace was closed for tours. Thirty-five Palace employees were sent home.
During the occupation, which I also covered for KITV, then Honolulu Police Department Chief Boisse Correa wearing a suit arrived on the palace grounds at noon and sat down on the grass to chat with Mahealani Kahau, the leader of the group.
Kahau told reporters after that Correa had assured her that because the palace grounds are under state jurisdiction, Honolulu city police were not required to take any action against her group.
Kahau and her group were involved in five other security breaches at Iolani Palace. In November 2011, they refused to leave after the palace grounds and the palace were closed to the public to insure security during APEC. Kahau and 21 were arrested. Three of the occupiers were convicted of misdemeanor trespass and ordered to stay away from the palace and palace grounds for a year. The 19 others, including Kahau, took deferred acceptance of guilty pleas (DAGS), meaning the convictions could be kept off their records if they agreed to keep out trouble for a year.
You have to wonder if government officials are continuing to pussyfoot around these serious incidents because they are afraid of stirring up more sovereignty activists.
Chu called the state’s law enforcement plan for Iolani Palace dysfunctional. He worries that the palace’s lack of a quick law enforcement response to past incidents may prompt others to harm the historic structure because they think they can get away with it.
Chu says it is only a matter of time before the next break-in occurs.
The non-profit Friends of Iolani Palace leases the palace from the state. The Friends’ lease with the state requires it to provide security for the palace building itself. The State Department of Land and Natural Resources is the lead law enforcement agency responsible for the place grounds. The Sheriff Division of the Public Safety Department and the Honolulu Police Department have secondary jurisdiction.
DLNR’s enforcement officers do not patrol the palace on a regular basis. DLNR Chairman William Aila says the department does not have the resources for regular patrols or to assign a full-time armed officer to the palace grounds. He says if DLNR officers happen to be in the area they will make a sweep through the grounds.
Ten private guards paid by the Friends of Iolani Palace carry out day-to-day security. They are unarmed and lack the power to arrest. In this latest incident, they called 911.
Princess Kawananakoa said, “Security guards are no substitute for law enforcement officers. The palace needs the same security as the State Capitol and Washington Place have.”
Palace supporters have suggested that either the Honolulu Police Department or the state sheriffs should assume primary responsibility for Iolani Palace security.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee says he is concerned about the number of security breaches at Iolani Palace.
Hee says he will submit legislation to secure additional funds to make it possible for the state Sheriff Division to become the lead agency in charge of protecting Iolani Palace.
Aila says if the legislature funds the DLNR to provided a full-time armed enforcement officer at the palace, he would consider it.
When the investigation of the most recent case is completed, Alia plans to follow up with civil penalties for the damage to the glass panel at the palace. He says fines can be up to $10,000 for damage to a historic structure or artifact.
Aila says, “It is regrettable that in this last incident two people who were chemically unbalanced caused this kind of damage.”
Hee called what is happening at the palace “painful.”
“This is a sad commentary on what’s happening to one of the greatest treasures we have in the state, a Native Hawaiian palace, the only palace in the entire country, and all that it stands for in our history.”