State Rep. Tom Brower and two boys who got into an altercation with him at a Kakaako homeless encampment Monday evening told conflicting stories Tuesday about how the legislator ended up in a hospital.

Brower, who in the past has taken a sledgehammer to shopping carts abandoned by homeless people, said he was attacked without provocation. At a press conference, he told reporters he was walking around to investigate “constituent concerns” regarding public safety and health issues at the encampment.

Brower said “a guy on a skateboard” approached and punched him “several times in the chest.” Soon, a second person, whom Brower said he didn’t see, joined in the fracas, knocking him down and punching him “a few times.”

Rep Tom Brower shows his injuries to his left hand during press conference at the Capitol room 312. 30 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

State Rep. Tom Brower says he was attacked without provocation.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Two homeless boys, ages 14 and 17, told Civil Beat on Tuesday morning that the altercation started because Brower was taking pictures of their encampment without permission and refused to stop.

“We asked him nicely to please stop taking pictures. He told us, ‘Just back off,’” said Isaiah Totoa, 17.

Totoa added that Brower never identified himself.

“He said nothing about who he was at all. Never mentioned it once,” Totoa said. “He just kept telling us, ‘I’m here to help you guys.’ … Now I feel bad because I now know who he is. He’s trying to help. But, like I said, we’ve had people come here saying the same shit.”

Tracy Martin, who lives in a tent nearby but didn’t witness the incident, said the boys were simply trying to protect their privacy. Too often, he said, people come to the homeless encampment and start filming.

“You got to understand what these kids go through here every day. They got to go to school and face questions like this, too. It’s not fair to them,” Martin said.

“I don’t have any animosity … I wouldn’t even necessarily want to have them be in trouble or anything.” — Rep. Tom Brower

Brower said he used his small digital camera to take photos and put it away as he walked Monday night. But he took it out again when the altercation started — to “videotape what was happening for my personal records.”

“Throughout the ordeal, I never acted aggressively toward anyone or tried to hit them back,” Brower said.

He was taken to Queen’s Medical Center in an ambulance and was released after getting treated for head injuries and bruises. He told reporters that he’s now “in good spirits.”

Asked repeatedly whether he will press charges, Brower demurred.

Representative Tom Brower at press conference Room 312 Capitol.

Rep Tom Brower at press conference Room 312 Capitol. 30 june 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Honestly, I haven’t thought a lot about that. My understanding is that the police have to contact me first regarding that,” he said. “I don’t have any animosity toward (the attackers), either. I wouldn’t even necessarily want to have them be in trouble or anything.

“At this time, my concern is not necessarily for my own safety but for the safety of families and children who are frequenting” the nearby Children’s Discovery Center and the Kakaako park, Brower said in prepared remarks.

In 2013,  Brower made national headlines when he began carrying a sledgehammer in his district, which includes Kakaako and Waikiki, and went on to smash 30 shopping carts left by homeless people.

“I got tired of telling people I’m trying to pass laws,” Brower told Hawaii News Now at the time. “I want to do something practical that will really clean up the streets.”

Scott Morishige, executive director of the homeless advocacy group PHOCUSED, said Tuesday he is worried that the altercation will get blown out of proportion and feed into negative stereotypes of homeless people.

“Our hope is that this one isolated event isn’t taken out of context,” Morishige said. “It’s important to keep in mind that these are real people who have the same right to privacy as everybody else. There’s been so much media attention in the area in the past couple of months because the community has grown so much. You’ve had news crews out there at least once a week. That can be disruptive to any community to have that kind of public attention focused on you.”

Civil Beat reporter Nathan Eagle contributed to this report.

Hawaii Rep. Tom Brower and his hammer

Rep. Tom Brower and his sledgehammer in 2013.

Screen shot from KITV

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