ACLU Confronts County On Occupy Maui Monsanto Protest
By Wendy Osher
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a complaint letter with the County of Maui this week citing concerns over First Amendment rights of protesters demonstrating near the Monsanto facility along the Pi’ilani Highway in Kihei.
Members of the Occupy Wall Street Maui group began the week-long protest on Monday to expresses their concerns over herbicide use, production of GMO products, and impacts on small farmers.
When the protest started, Monsanto officials found fault with claims against the company, but acknowledged the right for individuals to express their opinion.
The ACLU letter, dated on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, alleges OWSM members were threatened with trespass and instructed to leave the site after sunset because of safety concerns.
In the ACLU letter, the foundation states, “there is evidence to suggest that the county is singling out the Occupy protesters for harassment based on the content of their speech.”
The ACLU letter states that “vague safety concerns” were used “in justifying statements that protesters must leave at night.” It further states that, “No government official has given any basis for the statement that the safety of the protesters, the drivers, or the general public is at risk.”
A response letter from Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana M. Lutey states, “It is my understanding that the protestors leave of their own volition and not as a result of any threats by the MPD. In fact, it would make sense to leave at nightfall because the two protest areas are not well lit at night.”
OWSM protester, Brady Townsend said members of the group spent months planning the event. He said, “We researched it thoroughly, and got permits for our marches, but were told after a long run-around we did not need one for the site itself as it is on public property.”
OWSM members say they had planned to maintain a visible presence on the site 24 hours a day for the week; however, when rented portable sanitary facilities arrived, they say Maui police officers “turned them away.”
Officials from the County Department of the Corporation Counsel said, “In terms of the portable toilet permit, this cannot be construed as an act of harassment by MPD. If a permit was denied, I do not know who would have denied it,” stated Lutey in the Jan. 25, 2012 response letter to the ACLU.
Lutey further stated, “There is no provision in the County Code for the issuance of a portable toilet permit. As a result, no county agency could have denied the permit.”
The group released two videos saying police actions contradict the county’s position. The videos are posted on the OWSM Facebook page at: http://tinyurl.com/MPD-Kihei1, and http://tinyurl.com/MPD-Kihei2.
Corporation Counsel states that none of the protesters have been arrested, cited, or threatened with arrest or citation for protesting at Monsanto. “Instead, the protesters have simply been asked to comply with the same rules that apply to sign wavers (i.e. maintaining a certain distance from intersections for traffic safety, do not stand in the middle of a divided highway, etc.),” Lutey stated.
A request for comment from Monsanto was granted with the following statement from the company’s Community Affairs Director, Paul Koehler, who said, “This is a legal and safety matter outside of our purview, so we respectfully defer to county and state authorities.”
The OWSM group has plans to continue the demonstration as planned through Sunday, January 29, 2012, concluding with a dusk vigil. It is unclear if the event will run into the evening.