ACLU of Hawai'i Defends Free Speech Rights Of Former Police Officer Who Criticized Officials

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
July 3, 2002 12:00 am

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HONOLULU–­ Acting on behalf of a former police officer, the ACLU of Hawai’i today filed a federal lawsuit charging that police officials violated the officer’s First Amendment rights by harassing him after he criticized police officials involved in a scandal.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, Jack Brunton came under surveillance after he publicly criticized Big Island Chief of Police Wayne Carvalho for his involvement in a departmental promotions cheating scandal at the Hawai’i County Police Department (“HCPD”). Carvalho then used police resources to harass and intimidate Brunton.

“As a former police officer, I was appalled by the police department’s tactics,” Brunton said. “I have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else to criticize the police and other government officials without risking their surveillance and harassment. This basic right distinguishes our form of government from totalitarian states.”

Prior to being placed under surveillance, Brunton had for several months been calling for an investigation by the police commission into Carvalho actions and for the removal of Carvalho from office. He also started a website critical of Carvalho and testified before the Police Commission on behalf of Big Island Police Officer Tanny Cazimero. Cazimero claimed he was improperly treated due to his criticism of Carvalho and his ability to lead in light of the promotions cheating scandal.

The police commission refused to investigate complaints by Brunton and Cazimero against Carvalho. In August 2000, three days after Brunton delivered a letter to the mayor and County Council chairman complaining of illegal actions by Carvalho and the commission, Brunton saw a man in a white van watching him and photographing his house. After conducting his own investigation, Brunton discovered that the van belonged to the HCPD Kona Criminal Intelligence Unit, a small group within the department that answered directly to Carvalho.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, Carvalho publicly admitted that he placed Brunton under surveillance because Brunton had threatened to sue. In addition, Carvalho publicly defamed Brunton by telling reporters that Brunton was suspected of being involved in illegal activity, even though Carvalho knew this was false. Later, county attorney Ted Hong defended Carvalho’s illegal surveillance of Brunton before the Police Commission.

“The actions of Wayne Carvalho and the Hawai’i County Police Department are an egregious abuse of police power,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Ed Kemper. “Worse yet, other County officials did not put a stop to the abuses. The collusion on all levels to intimidate and harass a law-abiding citizen exercising his First Amendment rights shows a level of disregard for the Constitution that shocks the conscience.”

Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawai’i, added that the officials’ actions were especially disturbing because the USA/Patriot Act has given the government greatly expanded powers to investigate and place ordinary citizens under surveillance.

“We must be vigilant against police powers used to harass individuals for politically motivated reasons,” said White. “The actions of Carvalho and the Hawai’i Police Department should alarm all of us who value freedom.”

The lawsuit, filed against Carvalho and the County of Hawai’i, seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

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