Maui News

Mamuad Claims Free Speech Stifled After Discipline Action

March 14, 2014, 2:58 PM HST
* Updated March 19, 9:54 PM
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Neldon Mamuad. Photo © Maui Now.

Neldon Mamuad. Photo © Maui Now.

By Maui Now Staff

A former radio personality is seeking a temporary restraining order against the county claiming he is being threatened for his speech and conduct on a Facebook page he operates.

The federal suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Neldon Mamuad, a part-time employee at Councilman Don Guzman’s office and a volunteer member of the Maui County Liquor Commission.

The suit asks the court to “expunge any record of disciplinary action” from the plaintiff’s employment records and alleges that efforts were made to restrict what he “may say” on his Facebook feed. The plaintiff is also seeking a jury trial.

In August 2013 , administrators of the page posted an online update stating, “These acts by the County of Maui to investigate this page were intended to frighten our fans into chaos and retreat.”

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County officials said they were hiring special counsel, and had not determined at last report if they were going to comment on the case, which is pending litigation.  Maui Communications Director Rod Antone said Corporation Counsel will be making a formal request before council members in Monday’s 9 a.m. Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting for special counsel.

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In a press release, the ACLU states that Mamuad is known outside of work for, “enjoying vigorous debate on the actions of local police and other public figures.”

The Facebook page, formerly called “TAGUMAWatch” was adapted from a radio segment that Mamuad once hosted under the same name that was “dedicated to personal stories from both supporters and detractors of a high-profile Maui police officer.”

According to the suit, the radio segment originated around 2004-2005 when Mamuad’s friend and colleague was pulled over by Officer Keith Taguma. The radio segment included sightings of the officer and police activity, but came to an end in 2007.

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The Facebook page lists its founding date as Feb. 1, 2002, but the suit states that the Facebook page was created on July 7, 2013. Many of the earlier posts included a cover photo, photographs and comments about Officer Taguma, but have since been removed.

On Aug. 12, 2013, a post was generated saying the operation was “targeted for investigation” by the County of Maui for possible claims of harassment.

A county employee commenting on the page via their personal account suggested that the first amendment protects pictures and posts, but not the use of someone else’s name. The comment further suggested a name change to MAUIWatch which was implemented shortly after.

Councilman Don Guzman said the disciplinary action was handed down by Managing Director Keith Regan on the administrative side of the county that governs boards and commissions where Mamuad is a volunteer commissioner, not from the council chair which governs council services where Mamuad is employed.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was ordered to attend counseling and training sessions and was warned of “additional discipline” if he failed to comply with guidelines set forth in the disciplinary action.

In a phone interview with Guzman, he voiced support for Mamuad “as a friend and employee,” and called the action “far-reaching” and “detrimental” to Mamuad’s record.

“On the employment side, there is no action taken. On the administrator side, they have found him to have violated policy,” said Guzman, who noted that there was no way to appeal the process, which he said presents a “due process issue.”

The case is the third federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the County of Maui in less than a year.

Daniel M. Gluck, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii Foundation stated in a press release, “This apparent lack of regard for free speech rights is regrettable, as the county continues to infringe people’s rights while ultimately placing the costs for these avoidable actions onto the taxpayer.”

In February 2014, the ACLU and the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston filed a lawsuit over on behalf of Pastor Strat Goodhue and his wife who alleged their rights were infringed upon while handing out religious flyers on a sidewalk near the Maui Fair.

A separate lawsuit stemmed from a Jan. 21, 2013 demonstration in which members of the group Maui Peace Action joined in carrying signs as part of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day march through downtown Wailuku.

In September 2013, the parties in that case reached a settlement in which an agreement was made on rule modification that required council action for implementation.

***NOTE: Mamuad was formerly employed with Pacific Radio Group when he hosted The Big Phat Morning Show along side co-host G-Money. The company has since been renamed Pacific Media Group and owns Maui Now, which is not associated with Mamuad’s operation. Mamuad stopped hosting the radio program in 2007.

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