Some drivers complained that they were late getting to work Tuesday morning, as rush-hour traffic was slowed on Haleakala Highway while police traffic officers stopped oversized vehicles and ones with illegally tinted windows.
Thomas Russo, publisher of Maui Time Weekly, who had pulled up behind police vehicles and began using his cellphone to videotape a traffic stop, was arrested after police said he didn't comply with officers' instructions to stay a safe distance away.
"I was just doing my job," Russo said Tuesday afternoon, after he posted $3,000 bail to be released from the Wailuku Police Station. "I was arrested for reporting. All charges are ridiculous."
Russo, 39, was charged with obstructing government operations, harassment and resisting arrest. He was scheduled to appear in court at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 27.
Police said the traffic enforcement was part of Operation Recon, which started Friday to focus on oversized vehicles and vehicles with illegal window tinting.
Traffic Section officers were positioned on Haleakala Highway near its intersection with Hana Highway, stopping vehicles heading both downhill and uphill for violations.
Makawao resident Frederico Valdez said he arrived at his workplace in Kahului at 8:25 a.m., about a half-hour later than usual, because downhill traffic on Haleakala Highway was backed up near Haliimaile.
Near the bottom of the highway, he said officers in unmarked police cars were pulling over lifted trucks and vehicles with dark window tint.
"Not to discourage them from doing their work, but it was wrong timing," Valdez said.
Because officers were walking up to cars and directing drivers to pull over while there was a green light for downhill drivers, the usual flow of traffic was disrupted, he said.
Maui Police Department spokesman Lt. Wayne Ibarra said some drivers were slowing to observe the enforcement, contributing to the traffic delays. Drivers were traveling at the speed limit, Ibarra said.
Police said the operation was carried out in response to Letters to the Editor in The Maui News complaining about oversized vehicles and vehicles with illegal window tinting.
A check showed two letters published this month, one in April and three in February complaining about lifted vehicles or dark window tinting on vehicles.
At about 9:20 a.m., police stopped a vehicle with illegal window tinting on the highway near its intersection with Hana Highway. Two people were in the vehicle, which pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway, followed by two police vehicles.
Soon after, a vehicle driven by Russo pulled up behind the police vehicles, and Russo got out and approached the location of the traffic stop, police said. Russo began videotaping the traffic stop with his cellphone, walking past the police vehicles and continuing to walk toward the vehicle involved in the traffic stop while videotaping the officers and the two people in the vehicle, police said.
"As a matter of routine police traffic stop procedures designed for officer safety, the officers advised Russo to stay behind the police vehicles while they conducted a controlled traffic stop investigation," according to an MPD news release. "Russo refused to comply and continued approaching and videotaping the officers and the two occupants."
The two people in the vehicle told officers that "they had been alarmed by Russo videotaping them," police said.
Russo was arrested "after failing to comply with numerous requests from the officers to move back behind the police vehicles," police said.
As officers attempted to arrest Russo, he began to resist by pulling his arms away before he was taken into custody, police said.
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said the mayor's office received one call asking about traffic on the highway Tuesday morning. He said police informed the Mayor's Office about the enforcement and "an arrest involving a member of the alternative media."
"Our police officers were responding," Antone said. "They're trying to be responsive to the concerns of the community that had written to The Maui News. We're glad that our officers are listening to the community."
The islandwide enforcement is continuing, police said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.