PORTLAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Bar Harbor couple who claims their constitutional rights were violated while filming an arrest earlier this year by Portland police.
The ACLU filed the complaint Tuesday in Hancock County Superior Court.
The plaintiffs, Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni, accuse Officer Benjamin Noyes Jr. of the Portland Police Department of violating their constitutional rights during their May 25 arrests on charges of obstructing governmental administration.
According to the complaint, Walker and Scattoloni were walking back to their hotel in Portland around midnight when they came upon an incident involving five police officers and a female suspect. The couple watched the incident unfold, recording video of the situation on their cell phone. Making such a recording is not against the law.
The couple was arrested after Officer Noyes ordered them to stop filming and get off the sidewalk. At no time did Walker and Scattoloni approach or interfere with the officers, according to the complaint.
Following their arrest, the couple was taken to Cumberland County Jail, where they were booked, searched, fingerprinted and interrogated, despite not having been read their Miranda rights, the complaint alleges.
The charges later were dismissed by the district attorney’s office.
In a press release, Zachary Heiden, legal director of the ACLU of Maine, stressed the importance of having checks in place to bring to light any misuse of police power.
“The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check on the use of power and force,” Heiden said. “The police need to understand that individuals who are quietly observing their work from a distance have a right to do so, and it is not a cause for their arrest.”
The complaint alleges Officer Noyes violated the couple’s first amendment free speech rights by “ordering their arrest in response to their peaceful exercise of those rights.”
In addition, Walker and Scattoloni allege the officer violated their fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. There was no evidence of probable cause that the couple was committing a crime.
As relief from the court, the couple is asking to be awarded monetary damages that are “reasonable,” recovery of attorney’s fees and any additional relief the court deems just and equitable.