[NOTE: The following post has been updated to include an official statement from the County of Maui on the settlement.]
Oh beautiful irony, where have you been? I thought I’d lost you, but then you popped up your pretty little head in, of all places, a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announcing that the federal MAUIWatch lawsuit–brought about Neldon Mamuad, one of the site’s administrators who is also a part-time staffer for Maui County Councilman Don Guzman–has settled, allowing us ink-stained wretches who lose sleep over such things as press censorship to breathe a bit easier. Here are the details on the suit, according to this May 9 press release from the ACLU (which provided Mamuad some legal representation):
“As part of the settlement, the County agreed to drastically re-write its anti-harassment policy to make clear that the 2,500 employees of the County are still entitled to their First Amendment rights outside the workplace. The changes will also require the County’s lawyers to review any complaints of harassment at an early stage, to make sure that County employees do not have to submit to intrusive interviews about their off-work activities that are protected by the First Amendment. Additionally, the County will expunge any record of disciplinary action related to Mamuad’s free speech activities. The County will also pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and damages.”
Not a bad win for a guy who created his page (which was first named TAGUMAWatch) so that people all over the island could ridicule Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma. It was only after the county officials started to pressure Mamuad that he changed the name to MAUIWatch and turned his attention to automobile accidents, missing persons and fallen trees.
Still, getting a settlement worth $25,000 in fees and damages is pretty sweet. Of course, MauiTime’s own publisher, Tommy Russo, spent yesterday in court trying to convince a judge to dismiss the State of Hawaii’s attempt to criminalize his taking of photos during a Maui Police traffic stop, but hey, we’re all in the same sinking boat called Journalism, right? Mamuad certainly didn’t forget, as he put it in that ACLU press release:
“The County violated my free speech rights and wasted taxpayer money by trying to censor the content of MAUIWatch. It took a month of mediation and settlement conferences, but we finally got the County to realize that they were swimming upstream, against well-settled Federal law, and against the Constitution. I brought this case to protect my rights and to make sure all other public employees and volunteers can exercise their First Amendment rights as well. Hopefully the County has learned its lesson and realized that the government cannot use its power to quiet opinions it doesn’t like.”
Of course, the County of Maui didn’t waste much time throwing a bucket of cold water on all that “Constitution” talk, which is exactly what we’d expect they’d do. Here’s County Communications Director Rod Antone, in a May 9 statement:
“The County of Maui is pleased that this case has concluded, and that a compromise has been reached. However, the County remains firm in its stance that Mr. Mamuad should not have been allowed to conduct a personal vendetta against Officer Taguma, then proceed to lie about his intent by saying it was all in the name of the First Amendment. That sort of blatant disregard for the truth goes against everything the First Amendment stands for in the first place. Certainly the ACLU took this into account, which is why they agreed to settle and we appreciate that.”
See, had Mamuad been an actual journalist–a person who makes his or her living by just doing journalism–none of this would have happened. But Mamuad wants it both ways: he wants to run a popular Facebook page (which has no revenue model we can discern) as well as work for the County (and hold an unpaid position as a County Liquor Commissioner). We happen to believe the First Amendment takes precedence over mere contract law, but we can also definitely understand the County’s position that they had to defend poor, poor Officer Taguma because his feelings got hurt over some Facebook page.
And so how did Mamuad celebrate his newly secured press freedoms? By planting a big wet one on the Maui Police Department, of course!
On May 8, Mamuad posted video and numerous photos of the MPD’s Special Response Team–and its giant, military-style armored Bearcat–along with captions and comments that would make the most hardened cop smile with pride.
“This was the demo MPD’s Special Response Team did at today’s D.A.R.E. Day. Two ‘bad guys’ went into the stands and tried to sell drugs to the kids. When the kids refused, the bad guys kidnapped 3 children by placing them in the white car. That’s when SRT showed up with the Bearcat to ‘rescue’ the kids. Based on how loud the kids were screaming during the demo, we’d say it was a success!”
Of course, not everyone on the site was happy with Mamuad’s sudden prostration before the great MPD. But Mamuad would have none of it. After Karen Chun dared question why the MPD needed a vehicle better suited to war zones than Maui, Mamuad put her in her place with more vague public relations nonsense that could have come straight from Chief Gary Yabuta’s desk:
“We hear you Karen Chun, but based on some of the crazy stories we’ve monitored and covered, we support it. Maui is definitely changing, and while it may seem a bit overboard to the general public, when the _____ hits the fan we’ll be counting our blessings for having a well trained police force to maintain order.”
USA! USA! USA!
Photo of Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma: Tommy Russo/MauiTime