PORTLAND — A Bar Harbor couple claim they were illegally arrested in the city May 24 after observing and attempting to record police “interaction” with a woman on Fore Street, according to a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hancock County Superior Court.
Jill A. Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni were illegally arrested by Portland Police Officer Benjamin Noyes Jr., according to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Maine on behalf of Walker and Scattoloni.
The suit, which also claims Walker and Scattoloni were not read their Miranda rights when they were arrested, and were subjected to illegal searches, seeks unspecified damages and court costs.
“The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check on the use of power and force,” Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, said in a press release. “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 cause for their arrest.”
City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Tuesday that Police Chief Michael Sauschuck opened an investigation into the arrest in July after Heiden wrote to him with the allegations.
Grondin said Walker and Scattoloni have cooperated with the investigation, and Noyes will be provided an attorney by the city, which is required by the contract with the Police Superior Officers Benevolent Association.
The department will not comment on its investigation of Noyes, a 17-year veteran, because of “confidentiality of personnel matters and the pending civil lawsuit.,” Grondin said.
The complaint alleges Walker and Scattoloni were visiting Portland and returning to their hotel around midnight when they saw a traffic stop on Fore Street involving a woman and five police officers.
The couple watched from across the street and eventually crossed the street while staying about 25 feet from the scene, according to the complaint. They also recorded the incident on a cell phone.
“They watched silently, they did not approach or address the officers, and they did not in any way interfere with the officers’ work: they simply stood bearing witness,” the complaint said.
Walker and Scattoloni were allegedly approached twice by police before Noyes ordered them to leave or face arrest. The couple were then charged with obstructing government administration, a Class D misdemeanor.
The charge, which carries a sentence of no more than 364 days in jail, is made against persons interfering with public servants with “force, violence or intimidation.”
Walker and Scattoloni were taken to Cumberland County Jail and posted $60 bail apiece before their release early on May 25.