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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Residents of 2 Hawaii housing projects question curfew


By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Two men were injured Monday in a shooting at the Kalihi Valley Homes complex. Police are on the lookout for two male suspects.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The state stood by its decision yesterday to institute a 10 p.m. curfew at two Kalihi public housing projects following a string of violent confrontations that ended in a shooting Monday, but some residents said the security measure goes too far.

"It's prison," said Kalihi Valley Homes resident Hanna George, 27.

KVH resident Marisa Nedelec called it "kind of crazy."

Others supported the curfew, which the state said is a drastic and temporary measure aimed at heading off violence between feuding gangs.

"They should have a curfew," said Pat Kamalu, a longtime KVH resident.

The curfew takes effect as early as tonight or as late as Friday at KVH, which has about 400 units, and nearby Kūhiō Park Terrace, which has 614 units. The two are among the state's largest public housing properties.

Questions were being raised yesterday about the curfew's effect on civil liberties and whether there was precedent for such an order. Even as new concerns arose about the plan, officials grappled with such details as how long to leave the curfew in place, and what the penalties for violating it would be.

Denise Wise, Hawai'i Public Housing Authority executive director, said the curfew for residents is similar to those in place at some Mainland public housing projects.

Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, which oversees the housing authority, last night said the attorney general's office was consulted on the curfew and did not raise any legal concerns.

"Given the danger to health, safety and welfare, (Wise) was within her right to call for action, e.g., curfew. It cannot be indefinite however. She let the AG's office know that it was a short-term situation to quell any further escalation," Schwartz said in an e-mail.

TOUGH TO ENFORCE

Local housing officials could not recall the state ever instituting a curfew at public housing projects in Hawai'i.

Wise said the state has the authority to institute a curfew because the two projects are on state property.

"I'll probably have my critics about it, but I've got to do this," Wise said. "The way I look at it ... guns are now involved; that's really raising the stakes. To protect people, we need to do this sometimes."

She also acknowledged the curfew will be difficult to enforce. Private security guards at the projects, not police, will be charged with making sure people follow the curfew and will rove the properties in pairs to stop people out after 10 p.m.

She said guards will be added to the projects to enforce the curfew.

But both properties have several pedestrian entrances that aren't manned.

"Anybody who's bent on wanting to get into the property, they're going to be able to," she said, adding that the curfew is about cracking down on people who aren't supposed to be at the projects. "To some it may seem extreme."

She added, "What I don't want is a fatality."

Wise said plans to institute the curfew last night were pushed back to make sure residents were informed and to tackle other logistical issues.

State Rep. John Mizuno, D-30th (Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley, Fort Shafter), said he has become increasingly concerned about gang feuds in his district and added that he applauds the housing authority's intent behind the curfew.

But he questioned whether the curfew could violate state law or county ordinance, and yesterday he asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on the matter.

"They have a legal question and I don't know if they researched it thoroughly enough to say this stands," he said. "That was my concern."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i also raised questions about the legality of the curfew. In a statement, staff attorney Laurie A. Temple said: "Implementing house arrest for public housing residents poses grave constitutional concerns because it infringes on the fundamental rights of residents, including their rights to travel and association."

Temple added, "We will be watching this situation very closely over the next few days and hope that the Hawai'i Public Housing Authority will choose to work with the residents and community to ensure everyone's safety and freedom, rather than treating law-abiding public housing residents like criminals."

POLICE PATROLS

Police last night stepped up their patrols of the housing projects.

Police Maj. William Chur said police are on the lookout for any problems.

"We're very concerned it (the violence) could in fact escalate," he said.

Residents were notified of the curfew yesterday, with letters posted to their doors. The letter says all residents including adults must be in their units by 10 p.m. and guests must be gone by that time. Overnight passes for guests will be given in emergencies, and people who work late must register with security to be let in.

The curfew was announced Monday following a shooting that left two injured, one seriously. The 19-year-old victim in the shooting was upgraded from serious to stable condition yesterday. A 21-year-old man was treated at the scene and released.

Police said they had made no arrests in the case yesterday.

The shooting came in the wake of two beatings and a stabbing at Kalihi Valley Homes this month, and was part of what police have described as an escalating feud between mostly young adults who live at KVH and KPT.