On the evening of April 12, I was assaulted by a member of reality star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman’s security team. Soon after, I was assaulted again, and had my First Amendment rights violated, by a member of the Maui Police Department.
It began around 9pm, when I exited my Wailuku office. As I was crossing the parking lot, I noticed a number of large SUVs directly adjacent to my vehicle, and heard a woman asking for an autograph. Naturally curious, I pulled out my camera and started shooting video. Immediately, Chapman’s security guards began pushing me away. I informed them I was a member of the press and I had the right to film on public property.
This did nothing to dissuade them, and after a security guard who I later identified as Sonny Westbrook shoved me particularly hard I announced I was calling 911. The security guard then snatched my phone out of my hands and jabbed me in the mouth with his open palm, making direct contact with my upper front teeth and knocking my head back. At this point I began yelling for help.
After repeated demands, the security guard finally threw my phone down on the hood of a car; I grabbed it and called 911. While I was making the call, another member of Dog’s entourage who I recognized as his wife, Beth Chapman, began yelling at me, making it difficult for the operator to hear me. While I was still on the phone with 911, MPD officers arrived at the scene.
I explained what had happened, and while one of the officers took my statement I continued recording with my phone. The Dog crew moved behind a van and I shifted slightly to get a better vantage point. It was then that Officer Nelson Johnson of MPD told me I was “antagonizing” Dog’s gang. I panned the camera over to Officer Johnson and he charged me and hit me in the face opened-handed as he violently yanked the phone from me. I demanded he return it and he did, at which point I began filming again.
He then charged me a second time, and as I turned away from him and shoved my phone in my pants he grabbed me and twisted my left arm behind my back, wrenching it painfully. I pleaded with him to stop, telling him he was hurting me. That only made him wrench harder.
This went on for at least three minutes. I was screaming for help. The more I screamed in pain, the more Officer Johnson wrenched my arm. The video clearly shows I remained calm; I was doing nothing more than filming the incident, and for that I was assaulted by a public servant on public property. I repeatedly explained to him that I was a member of the press and cited my First Amendment right. Officer Johnson erroneously claimed my press rights didn’t include filming him against his wishes.
After the assault, Johnson fabricated a story that I charged him with the camera, but the video evidence (which can be viewed on our news blog, mauifeed.com) clearly refutes that.
Soon a higher-ranking officer arrived on scene. As I was explaining the incident to him, I watched in the background as Officer Johnson got his chance to go meet the TV star Chapman, and they shook hands and laughed together.
I challenge Dog and his crew to release their video footage of the events.
Bottom line: because I attempted the completely legal act of recording on public property I was shoved, hit, had my property taken and was prevented from accessing emergency services. Once “help” arrived, I was further assaulted and had my Constitutional rights violated.
This type of injustice cannot, and should not, stand. The police are supposed to serve and protect. When they fail in that duty, they must be held accountable.