On April 8, MauiTime Publisher Thomas Russo filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the County of Maui, Maui Police Chief Gary Yabuta and Maui Police Officer Nelson Johnson over an April 12, 2011 incident involving Russo, Johnson and members of Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman’s security entourage. According to the 11-page complaint, “This is an action arising out of the events and circumstances leading up to and surrounding the seizure, arrest, harassment, assault, and battery of Tommy Russo, a member of the media, and the seizure of Mr. Russo’s property, who was filming news events on Maui.”
MauiTime reported extensively on the night in question (click here for Russo’s original story on his arrest). To briefly recap, Russo was leaving work that night and noticed Chapman in the Wailuku Municipal Parking Lot, apparently as part of an episode of his now-cancelled A&E reality show. When Russo identified himself as a member of the media and attempted to photograph Dog with his iPhone, members of Dog’s security detail “shoved” Russo and “grabbed” his phone, according to the complaint. After retrieving the phone, Russo then called 911.
Soon after, according to the complaint, “Officer Nelson Johnson told Mr. Russo he was antagonizing Mr. Chapman’s contingency [sic].” When Russo then attempted to photograph Johnson, the complaint says “Officer Johnson charged Mr. Russo and hit Mr. Russo with an open hand.” The complaint alleges that Johnson further “grabbed” Russo’s phone, “grabbed Mr. Russo’s arm, twisted it and put it behind Mr. Russo’s back” and “pushed Mr. Russo’s face into the car.”
In the complaint, Russo asks for punitive damages for unlawful seizure, unlawful arrest, violation of the “First Amendment Right to Film Public Officials,” “Inadequate Supervision/Training/Discipline,” false arrest, battery, assault, negligence and “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.”
Russo’s attorney is Sam MacRoberts, a Wailuku attorney with the Law Office of Philip H. Lowenthal.
A separate criminal case involving Russo’s Nov. 20, 2012 arrest for attempting to film Maui Police Officers during Operation RECON is ongoing in Maui Second District Court.
Patrick Wong, the County of Maui’s Corporation Counsel, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Photo of MPD Officer Nelson Johnson: Tommy Russo
About Anthony Pignataro
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He started work as MauiTime's Editor in 2003, took a couple years off starting in 2008, then returned to the staff in 2011. He's the author of "Stealing Cars With The Pros," a 2013 collection of his journalism and the Maui novels "Small Island" (2011) and "The Dead Season" (2012)–all of which were published by Event Horizon Press. In 2014, his one-act play "War Stories" won second place in the Maui Fringe Festival.