Calling it a victory for free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Hawaii office announced yesterday that the County of Maui has dropped its appeal of a First Amendment case. The case involved Maui pastor Strat Goodhue and his wife, who in 2013 were handing out religious pamphlets on a public sidewalk outside the Maui Fair when Maui Police Officers asked them to move (click here for our 2014 story on the lawsuit).
“As part of the settlement agreement, the County of Maui has dropped its appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and, for three years, will conduct additional specialized training for current and new Maui Police Department (“MPD”) officers on upholding the 1st Amendment in public spaces,” stated the Nov. 19 ACLU Hawaii news release. “After the case was filed, the County of Maui had in turn sued the Maui Fair (“Fair”), whose insurance carrier will pay damages and court costs.”
The incident, according to the ACLU, went down like this: “At the direction of Fair organizers, an MPD officer ordered the Goodhues to leave not just the Fair area, but other nearby public sidewalks as well,” stated the ACLU news release. “The ACLU and the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston filed a federal court lawsuit shortly thereafter.”
Of course, Maui County Corporation Counsel Pat “The Gambler” Wong took issue with that. “Maui Police responded to a complaint from Maui Fair officials that Pastor Strat Goodhue and his wife Doreen were handing out literature on the sidewalk just outside of the main fairground entrance, blocking people on the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to step into the street,” Wong said in a statement released a few hours after the ACLU press release. “An officer approached the Goodhues after receiving the complaints and asked if they would be willing to move to another area to pass out their literature. The Goodhues agreed and moved to a different location.”
Wong also (predictably) defended the MPD. “The ACLU’s inference that the county settled this case because Maui Police officers are not trained in these matters is a misrepresentation of the facts,” Wong said in his statement. “All Maui Police Department officers have received training in constitutional rights, including those of the First Amendment.”
Ha! In 2011, a Maui police officer assaulted MauiTime publisher Tommy Russo as he tried to photograph the cop. In 2012, two other Maui police officers arrested Russo after he tried to film them carrying out a traffic stop (a judge later threw that case out, but the county insists it will appeal the ruling). Both were incidents in which Maui police officers clearly didn’t believe Russo had a First Amendment right to photograph cops in public.
For their part, the ACLU’s attorneys clearly think the MPD needs more training in this matter (hence the word “additional” next to “training” in their press release, clearly implying that the MPD already receives constitutional training).
“What happened to the Goodhues was wrong,” said attorney Matthew Winter of Davis Levin Livingston in the ACLU’s news release. “The County of Maui and its police have a sworn duty to uphold and protect the free speech rights of everyone on the Valley Isle, and we are hopeful in this victory that renewed focus on these rights and the additional First Amendment training for all MPD officers required as part of the settlement means fundamental rights will now be respected.”
Photo courtesy Strat Goodhue’s Facebook page