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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Publisher Claims Cop Assaulted Him

HONOLULU (CN) - A publisher claims in court that Maui police assaulted him and seized his phone as he tried to film (nonparty) Duane "Dog The Bounty Hunter" Chapman signing autographs in a parking lot.

Tommy Russo, publisher of Maui Time Publications, sued Maui County, its police Chief Gary Yabuta and Officer Nelson Johnson, in Federal Court.

"On April 12, 2011, Mr. Russo noticed a number of large SUVs in the parking lot near his car and heard a person asking for an autograph. Sensing a news story, Mr. Russo began using his cell phone as a camera," the complaint states.

Chapman's new cable TV show, "Dog" is expected to begin April 21 on Viacom's CMT (Country Music Television).

Russo claims that no sooner had he whipped out his camera phone when "One or more of Mr. Chapman's security guards began pushing Mr. Russo away from the area."

The complaint continues: "Mr. Russo informed the security guard he was a member of the media and that he had the right to film.

"Another security guard then shoved Mr. Russo again.

"Mr. Russo announced he was calling 911.

"The security guard grabbed Mr. Russo's phone and jabbed Mr. Russo in the mouth. Mr. Russo began yelling for help.

"After repeated demands, the security guard gave Mr. Russo his phone back by tossing it on the hood of a car.

"As Mr. Russo was calling 911, police officers from the Maui Police Department arrived on scene.

"Mr. Russo began filming with his phone when police officers' patrol cars entered the parking lot.

"At that point, Officer Nelson Johnson told Mr. Russo he was antagonizing Mr. Chapman's contingency. [Sic.]

"Mr. Russo panned the camera to Officer Johnson. Officer Johnson charged Mr. Russo and hit Mr. Russo with an open hand.

"Officer Johnson grabbed Mr. Russo's phone. Mr. Russo demanded Officer Johnson return the phone and Officer Johnson eventually complied. Mr. Russo continued filming.

"Officer Johnson charged Mr. Russo a second time and Mr. Russo turned away, shoving the phone in his pants. At that point, Officer Johnson grabbed Mr. Russo's arm, twisted it and put it behind Mr. Russo's back. Officer Johnson wrenched it painfully. Officer Johnson pushed Mr. Russo's face into the car.

"Mr. Russo was pleading with Officer Johnson and another officer to stop and told him he was hurting Mr. Russo. Officer Johnson wrenched harder.

"A second officer watched the incident but did nothing."

Russo claims that "Officer Johnson is known in the community as violent, aggressive, and harassing. He is notorious for escalating situations. Acting on information on belief, he has been complained against for his continuous and aggressive behavior."

He claims that Chief Yabuta ratified Johnson's behavior.

He also claims that "Johnson gave conflicting excuses as to why he assaulted Russo."

Russo seeks punitive damages for unlawful seizure, false arrest, assault and battery, negligent training and supervision and civil rights violations.

He is represented by Philip Lowenthal of Wailuku.

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