Citing substantial inaccuracies in both a official Maui Police Department statement and various news accounts, MauiTime Publisher Thomas Russo has posted the video footage of his Nov. 20 arrest while trying to film various Maui Police Officers engaged in “Operation Recon” on Haleakala Highway, a massive effort to ticket citizens for driving vehicles with over-sized tires and illegally tinted windows. The video clearly shows that he was complying with the Maui Police Officers’ orders that he get back from their traffic stop at the time he was arrested.
also if you do not see the video above click below.
Contrary to the Maui Police Department’s assertion that Russo “compromised the officers’ safety, after failing to comply with numerous requests from the officers to move back behind the police vehicles and was then placed under arrest,” the video clearly shows Russo was arrested for filming the Maui Police Officers and not for”obstructing a government operation,” as he’s been charged with (along with resisting arrest and harassment).
Indeed, the video shows Russo complying with officer Rusty Lawson’s request that Russo stand back. Indeed, the video shows Russo walking backwards, away from the officers as Lawson repeatedly says, “Stand back.” The video also shows that after Russo identified himself by name and as a member of the media–all the while walking back, away from the officers–Lawson arrested him anyway.
“I stopped to find out why it was so important to back up traffic for miles,” Russo said after being released. “Social media was blowing up my phone, asking what was going on there. I wanted a report from the scene. I was arrested for filming and all other charges from the MPD are ridiculous. The police chose to arrest me in a direct attempt to stop the documenting of their activities.”
Filming law enforcement officers on a public highway is protected under the First Amendment, states the American Civil Liberties Union.
“As a general rule, when in public spaces where you are lawfully present, you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view,” said Dan Gluck, ACLU Hawaii’s senior staff attorney. “That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.”
Though Gluck said he did not have the details of Russo’s arrest and thus couldn’t comment on it specifically, he did add that this isn’t the first he’s heard of matters as this.
“The ACLU of Hawaii has received complaints from across the state regarding the right to videotape police officers, however, and we encourage individuals who feel that their right to document law enforcement interactions may have been violated to contact our office confidentially,” he said.
Operation Recon, which handed out pre-printed tickets Tuesday morning, is ongoing at other sites around Maui. Though Maui Police Department spokesman Lt. Wayne Ibarra said that the operation was “in response to complaint letters to the editor of the Maui News regarding oversized vehicles and vehicles with illegal tints,” this Nov. 20 Maui News story on the operation and Russo’s arrest states that the paper published two letters on such matters this month and only six all year.
Russo posted $3,000 bond a few hours after his arrest. His court date is Dec. 27, 2012.
Before then, you can watch Russo’s video here.