The O’Keefe Media Group has filed a lawsuit against Hawaii’s Democratic Gov. Josh Green and the County of Maui following an incident where the group’s founder, James O’Keefe, was threatened with arrest while attempting to capture hidden camera footage of the aftermath of devastating wildfires that ravaged the region.
The confrontation, captured on hidden camera, unfolded during the group’s recent investigation into the disaster.
A video posted on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, revealed a montage of police officers secretly recorded, making threats against O’Keefe and his team, citing the governor’s emergency order in response to the tragedy as grounds for prohibiting photography and video recording on public land.
In the video, one police officer from Lahaina informed O’Keefe that they were not allowed to take photos and park in a specific spot known as Lahaina Bypass “for safety.”
O’Keefe himself said, “I film with the button camera, my colleague with a camera in the brim of the phone. He did not know that we’re recording, but he did inform me that if I was to record past this street, then I would be arrested.”
WARNING: The following social media post contains language some may find offensive.
O’KEEFE UNDERCOVER IN LAHAINA PART 1: Maui police and sheriffs tell Journalists Governor has prohibited photography on public land.
Hawaii National Guard says Maui police and Sheriffs are “assholes” who are “puffing chests”
OMG files lawsuit against Hawaii Gov to invalidate the… pic.twitter.com/Kh6WXsNSIg
— O’Keefe Media Group (@OKeefeMedia) September 15, 2023
The police officers referred to 127A-29, of Hawaii Revised Statutes, citing it as the justification for the emergency declaration, which penalizes “Emergency period infractions, violations, petty misdemeanors, and misdemeanors.”
This emergency rule states: “Any person violating any rule of the governor or mayor prescribed and adopted pursuant to this chapter and having the force and effect of law shall, if it shall be so stated and designated in the rule, be guilty of a violation, petty misdemeanor, or misdemeanor.”
Despite these warnings, O’Keefe and his team continued to document their surroundings, including areas of Lahaina designated as “military National Guard checkpoints.”
“I’m not supposed to be filming, but we are filming, because it’s our First Amendment right to film,” the independent investigative journalist said.
When a lawyer identified as Mike Yoder, who was with O’Keefe’s team, inquired of another police officer, “Does it say in there that you can’t take photos of stuff?” the latter responded, “We’ll, it’s saying that you’re not supposed to park over here. So if you guys park here, that’s technically in violation.”
— James O’Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) September 14, 2023
O’Keefe later identified the officer as “Officer W. Akua” and said he “got rather invasive in the vehicle,” adding, “he was getting a little close for comfort with me.”
“I was wondering if he was gonna detain me.”
Later in the video, members of the National Guard contradicted the police’s stance, affirming that filming was permitted.
One guardsman confirmed that many wildfire victims are still “unaccounted for,” suggesting that “most of them” may have been “cremated.”
“It’s hard to get the DNA off them. That’s why we’re holding the scene, so that way, the dogs can come and try to get a scent, then they run the DNA,” the guardsman added.
The exact count of missing individuals remained uncertain, but it could potentially reach as high as “a thousand,” according to the discussion in the footage.
This conflicting narratives from police officers and guardsmen added complexity to the situation.
Nevertheless, O’Keefe managed to extract a statement from the Maui police department, confirming that they could not record in front of the burn zone “because usually that’s the perimeter where they shut down.”
This encounter prompted O’Keefe to file a lawsuit to challenge what he described as “the criminalization of protected First Amendment activity” and to strip Maui County of its ability to prosecute individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights, according to the Post Millenial.
The lawsuit was submitted to the U.S. District Court of Hawaii and seeks to prevent the governor from “unilaterally criminalizing the fundamental rights of free speech and a free press to which Plaintiffs are guaranteed under both the United States and Hawaii Constitutions,” according to The Post Millennial.
WATCH: James O’Keefe and Attorney Mike Yoder have filed a lawsuit against Hawaii Governor to invalidate the criminalization of protected First Amendment activity.
Yoder’s mission is twofold: End the suppression of electronic media and eliminate criminal provisions against free… pic.twitter.com/GC6hWfcvjG
— O’Keefe Media Group (@OKeefeMedia) September 15, 2023
This legal action encompasses, in addition to O’Keefe, a plaintiff identified as John Doe, who faced charges from Maui County for engaging in constitutionally protected First Amendment activity while reporting on the fires.
“[Maui County Sheriff’s Department] officials informed John Doe that it was not a law, but rather, the ‘Emergency Proclamations’ Governor Green had issued regarding the Maui wildfires that made his engagement in constitutionally protected First Amendment activity a crime,” the suit said.
The lawsuit argued that the actions taken by law enforcement following the governor’s order infringed upon the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Post Millennial reported.
This clause stipulates, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The lawsuit also asserted that there exists a “conflict that exists between the State of Hawaii’s criminalization of First Amendment activity and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
“This isn’t merely about the freedom to take photos,” the O’Keefe Media Group explained on its website, “it’s about the freedom of the press and the right to hold our leaders accountable.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.