Maui Police Arrest Newspaper Publisher for Video Recording Traffic Checkpoint

Tommy Russo, the newspaper publisher assaulted by a cop last year while trying to record on the set of Dog the Bounty Hunter, was arrested this week while trying to record a police check point in Maui.

The video shows Russo pulling up the checkpoint, stepping out of his car and coming across a police officer who had Russo walk back to his car and turn on his hazards, but didn’t take too much issue with him recording the checkpoint after that.

But then Russo came across a second cop who took great issue with Russo recording the checkpoint, ordering him to move away from the area.

When Russo asserted his rights, he was arrested.

Russo, who runs the weekly Maui Time was charged with “obstructing a government operation,” but the video doesn’t show much obstructing.

At least not by the standards as it is written in the Hawaiian law books, which defines the charge as the following:

A person commits the offense of obstructing government operations if, by using or threatening to use violence, force, or physical interference or obstacle, the person intentionally obstructs, impairs, or hinders:

(a)   The performance of a governmental function by a public servant acting under color of the public servant’s official authority;

(b)   The enforcement of the penal law or the preservation of the peace by a law enforcement officer acting under color of the law enforcement officer’s official authority; or

(c)   The operation of a radio, telephone, television, or other telecommunication system owned or operated by the State or one of its political subdivisions.

(2)  This section does not apply to:

(a)   The obstruction, impairment, or hindrance of the making of an arrest; or

(b)   The obstruction, impairment, or hindrance of any governmental function, as provided by law, in connection with a labor dispute with the government.

Police were conducting checkpoints to look for over-sized tires and illegal tints, which ended up backing traffic up for miles, prompting Russo to investigate with his camera.

Maui police officer Rusty Lawson

About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • CWJ

    Well that’s Hawaii off our vacation destination wish list…

    • Da Kingfish

      No problem, who would want to live in a place that welcome’s the Messiah, and lies for him.

      • Fotaugrafee

        If you’re talking about Obama, you’re an asswipe. Grow up.

      • warren peace

        This comment doesn’t make any sense

  • Tijuana Joe

    Oversized tires? Illegal tints? How can that be legal? People have a right
    to travel unmolested. On second thought, maybe that’s why they didn’t want it filmed….

    • xyz234

      You wouldn’t say that if you had ever driven in Hawaii, and seen some of the Rube Goldberg contraptions fools put on the road there. Kudos to the police for FINALLY going after this dangerous sh*t.

      • Mr. B


      • BajaRat

        What, running illegal checkpoints is OK with you over frickin’ window tint? Isn’t the observation of tint that is too dark reasonable cause to pull over a car and investigate? And what’s this “oversize tires” shit? That ought to be obvious to a cop without running a checkpoint.

        I use to live in the Ma’alaea Bay area and I can tell you tat the Maui County Police are worse than any on the mainland. Arrogant and disrespectful, too. Vacation on Kauai instead.

  • Boomer

    Lawson must have been the top recruit in his class at the academy. He learned quite well the first rule of being a law enforcement officer is to repeat over and over “Stop resisting” when he’s making an arrest. Bravo, Rusty.

    What a joke. I feel the same way as Russo about these idiotic warrantless checkpoints, regardless of the imagined rationale behind them. For the past six months or so in my part of the world they’ve conducted warrantless “DUI” checkpoints, which result in lengthy traffic back ups, and very few arrests. The local media here breathlessly reported on one last week, and completely missed the obvious (what a shock) when they informed us that the police had stopped and “interviewed” over 700 vehicles and made an astounding four arrests, and impounded 6 vehicles.

    And they believe the manpower, funds, and disruption to the public’s right to travel the roads without interferrence was somehow not infringed. Pathetic.

  • Roy Kerns

    Many months, nay, seasons since last post. Remain convinced that only one result, happening repeatedly, will stop the kind of violation-of law-police behavior this blog documents: the officer involved losing $. Thus watching with anticipation for the final outcome of Carlos v Nancy. Great that emphatically correct, obvious to a klutz not guilty verdict happened. But utterly sad that step co$t Carlos so much. Anything less than the next step requiring Nancy coughing up cash will represent only a partial victory.


    I was heading to Maui in the spring with wife and two kids. I can’t in good faith now. He will win his case. Maui will lose credibility. Life goes on, but no money from ANY TRAVELERS THAT SUPPORT THE RULE OF LAW.

  • jack

    I’ve never been to Hawaii but I was thinking of booking some vacation time in February to go for 2 or 3 weeks. Guess what, folks… it isn’t going to happen with that kind of police attitude. I’m taking my money elsewhere to spend and I’ll ask my friends to do the same.

  • Riley B.

    It is laughable that people here are cancelling vacation plans to Maui because of this video. I am a photographer and have been to Maui twice in the last 15 months. By not going because some idiot with an iPhone wants to instigate the police then I’ll be happy to be there without your ignorance. A lot of people on here sound like Sovereign Citizen wannabes talking of a right to travel. Unfortunately a driving licence is a privilege and not a right and part of that privilege is obeying the traffic and vehicle equipment laws set forth by the government. I’d say the obstruction is set out in the fact that with him wandering around there they could not provide their full attention to a traffic stop with having to look over their shoulder with him there.
    I have photographed in many places and never been hassled by the police.. but I also don’t approach the police when they are doing something and instigate them.

    • Da Kingfish

      Good boy, maybe Obame will let you be his resident photographer, when he moves there.

    • Seedee Vee

      What a good little girl you are, worrying about other peoples “privilege(s)” and their, called by you, non-existent “rights”. Do they (the cops) give you stickers and candy too?

      You should have noticed that Tommy Russo was standing on the ground and not driving anything.

      I think it is wonderful that someone is willing to proclaim that they won’t go vacationing in some rainbow soaked police state in protest of the blatant mistreatment of a human being.

    • Rail Car Fan

      Riley B…

      Well here’s another one who thinks.. “Cops Can Do NO Wrong!”

      Rail Car Fan

  • Kevin Jackson Sui Juris


  • steveo

    Let’s go over this again. SCOTUS has never authorized a police roadblock for general crime control. If the local or state or federal leos are conducting a roadblock, they need to have a clearly defined operational plan available to the public at all times, a supervisor who is available for interview at the roadblock and here the leos are egregiously censoring the freedom of the press. The only roadblocks that the SCOTUS has authorized are for DUI ,safety, and for immigration within 100 miles of the border. I suppose the leos here would cite that this is a safety roadblock, but they still need clearly written defined guidelines and they can’t censor the press.

    Videographers need to have a positive mental attitude with the expectation of a negative result when dealing with the common leo who spouts off law like, “Your 1st Amendment rights can be terminated if…”. This reporter should have asked for the supervisor and then calmly talked with the supervisor about the guidelines, making sure that the conversation is recorded, recorded the written guidelines and the names of all the leos operating at the roadblock, and then if the supervisor does not give the reporter access to the area of the stops for documentation. Document that and then prepare injuction lawsuits so that the locals can’t do it again without the proper procedure.

    We have a local attorney in my county who did it this way and had 10 DUI roadblocks over the course of a year declared unconstitutional (all the DUI arrests were set aside) in 2010 and 11, the sheriff hasn’t operated one since.

  • steveo

    This situation is nearly identical to Robinson v. Fetterman, which is a landmark case in the right to record movement and this case is cited in all the recent decisions like Glik, Sharpe and the DOJ guidelines. Robinson, the videographer and his lawyers won about 180K. Robinson was recording a State Police checkpoint and was arrested for “harassment” and was issued a citation and released.

    This my favorite line from the case: “Moreover, to the extent that the troopers were restraining Robinson from making any future videotapes and from publicizing or publishing what he had filmed, the defendants’ conduct clearly amounted to an unlawful prior restraint upon his protected speech.”

    Here’s the link:

  • BT

    All I can say is this guy got exactly what he was asking for in this case.

    • billyrights

      You would make a good Nazi

    • warren peace

      All I can say is you are white skinned and most likely wealthy. Your parents probably paid for everything you have as well

  • Thumper

    If it was our city we would have beat his ass and his camera would have fallen in a toilet on accident.

    • Da Kingfish

      All mouth, sounds like you have been thumping your chicken too much.

    • BajaRat

      Hey! You must be Rahm Emanuel, eh?

  • DB

    This guy is not a member of the media. He is trying to make news, not report the news.

    • Seedee Vee

      The cops made the news with that phony roadside revenue generation scheme, he just recorded it.

    • BajaRat

      He publishes a weekly out of Wailuku. Besides, any citizen can post police so long as the citizen doesn’t interfere with whatever the cops are doing. Read the Constitution sometime.

    • SRM

      The Supreme Court has determined that you do not need to have press credentials (although this guy did)–freedom of the press is the same for individuals and for professional journalists. The right to video record in public places, including public areas of government buildings, and to record on private property where you have a lawful right to be, is by now well established (and as someone pointed out, clearly laid out in a DoJ letter to the Baltimore PD, which was sued over this issue). Interference is not based on whether the cops don’t like the recording being done.

  • Rwolf

    Will News Publishers NEXT get a Cops’ Boot in the Face?

    Considering the direct the U.S. Police State appears headed, I wouldn’t be surprised if next local police threaten news publishers in their offices. Nazi Brown Shirts to shut up reporters beat them up on the street and in their offices, smashed their printing equipment, burned their offices, assassinated journalists. This started in the year run up to Hitler getting German Parliament to pass Hitler’s 1933 Decrees that suspended the Reich Constitution that prior had protected Citizens’ civil liberties and free speech. The U.S. version of similar fascist legislation is the Patriot Act and recent (NDAA) The Defense Authorization Act of 2012.

    NDAA 2012, like Hitler’s 1933 Discriminatory Decrees enforces censorship; refers to the Patriot Act e.g. warrant-less searches of private property and forfeiture of property from persons not charged with crime. Provisions in NDAA 2012 keep the door open for corrupt U.S. police; government agents and provocateurs which there are many, to falsify reports and statements to target any American, group or organization for arrest, indefinite detention, complete disappearance; civil asset forfeiture of their property.

    Almost immediately after German Parliament passed Hitler’s laws, the Reich Government ordered the arrest of German Citizens and confiscated their guns without probable cause or evidence; delegated powers to German Police and other authorities to arrest anyone Nazi authorities claimed attempted or incited public unrest: arrested among others were outspoken Germans, writers, journalists, peaceful protestors and artists. After World War II the East German Secret Police (Stasi) used the threat of Indefinite Detention to forcibly recruit thousands of informants.

    You may have noted NDAA referred to the USA Patriot Act. The Patriot Act lends itself to Government / police corruption; the Federal Government may use secret witnesses and informants to cause arrests and civil asset forfeiture of Americans’ property. Witness(s) and informants may be paid up to 50% of assets forfeited. Federal Government under 18USC may use a mere preponderance of civil evidence, little more than hearsay to Civilly Forfeit Private Property. Under the Patriot Act innocent property owners may be barred by government knowing the evidence federal government uses to forfeit their property.

    Sections of NDAA 2012 are so broad, it appears U.S. Government or the President could (retroactively) deem an American’s past 1st Amendment activities prior to passage of 2012 NDAA—supported hostilities, terrorism or (Belligerents) to order the arrest and Indefinite Detention of any U.S. Citizen, writer, group or organization.

    Under NDAA 2012 it should be expected that indefinitely detained U.S. Citizens not involved in terrorism or hostile activities, not given Miranda Warnings when interrogated, not allowed legal counsel or habeas corpus may be prosecuted for non-terrorist (ordinary crimes) because of their (alleged admissions) while held in Indefinite Detention.

    • steveo

      Marx called it the historical dialectic. There is no way around a police state. Democracies and
      Republics always fall into corrupt police states eventually. Pretty negative, but enjoy the freedoms that we have left and assert your Constitutional rights every time you have a chance. It won’t last for long.

  • Fotaugrafee

    To some extent, even I could see being pissed at this guy. Don’t stand there & ask questions of people while they’re trying to do their job. As a career railroader, I’d be pissed if someone sat there & did that to me while I were conducting a movement.

    Also, he REALLY needs a windscreen on his mic. Damn!!

    • warren peace

      There’s a difference between being annoying, and BREAKING THE LAW! aNNOYING A COP IS NOT AN ARRESTABLE OFFENSE.