Police chief says he wants dialogue on speech ordinance

Police Chief Gary Yabuta issued a statement Friday afternoon, responding to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit alleging that enforcement of Maui County’s sign ordinances violates the public’s constitutional right to free speech.

The Maui Police Department and Department of the Corporation Counsel will review the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Yabuta said, and “hopefully dialogue” with the ACLU to find a resolution.

“It will always be the mission of the Maui Police Department to protect the people’s constitutional rights and facilitate public safety as well,” he said.

The ACLU lawsuit involves Maui police because an officer allegedly threatened to enforce the county’s sign ordinance that prohibits sign-waving within 50 feet of any traffic control signal, 20 feet of a pedestrian walkway or 6 feet from the edge of pavement or other highway surface. The warning came Jan. 9, less than two weeks before Maui Peace Action planned a Jan. 21 march in downtown Wailuku as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.

Maui Peace Action members Mele Stokesberry and Chuck Carletta, who are plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit, reported that they feared being ticketed, arrested or cited for holding signs during the march, but they did so anyway. No police action was taken, however.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said Friday that county officials had not been served with the ACLU’s complaint, but he expressed support for Yabuta’s statement.

Aside from contending that the county sign ordinance is unconstitutional, the ACLU also takes issue with what it calls the county’s “erratic” enforcement of regulations.

Maui police officers have violated the sign ordinance by participating in roadside sign-waving with students and others to call attention to the dangers of drunken and distracted driving, the ACLU said.