PORTLAND — The city will pay $72,000 in damages and court costs to a Mount Desert Island couple who sued after they were arrested last May while video recording police making another arrest.
Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni will each receive $36,000 in the settlement, reached in U.S. District Court. The deal was announced Monday by the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
The settlement also requires city police “to utiliz(e) this incident as a training tool to ensure the rights of citizens, including First Amendment rights, will be respected by its police officers in such interactions,” City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grodin said in a press release.
Zach Heiden, ACLU of Maine legal director, said the settlement reaffirms basic civil liberties.
“Going forward, people in Maine should feel free to exercise their First Amendment rights to observe, photograph and record the police,” Heiden said. “Such observation is an important tool for ensure police accountability.”
Walker and Scattoloni were arrested by Sgt. Benjamin Noyes early in the morning on May 24, 2014, on Spring Street after they saw a traffic stop and then began recording the incident with a cell phone, according to the lawsuit filed against Noyes in September 2014 in Hancock County Superior Court.
“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.
The suit alleged Noyes, a 17-year veteran of the Police Department, approached the couple, who were vacationing in Portland, and said “You have two seconds to get off this sidewalk or you will be under arrest.”
After being warned to leave twice, Walker and Scattoloni were charged with Class D obstruction of government administration and taken to Cumberland County Jail. They were freed after several hours on $60 bail; the charges were eventually dismissed.
The arrest report referred to in the suit quotes Noyes saying Walker and Scattoloni were arrested because of “their proximity to the combative female (involved in the traffic stop) and their refusal to follow my commands.”
The alleged violations of the couple’s First and Fourth Amendment rights included failure to advise them of their rights, and illegal searches at the scene and jail.
“We decided to bring this case in order to help make it clear that you have the right to observe and record the police, as long as you aren’t interfering with their work,” Walker said. “We hope that nobody else will have to go through what we went through.”
The lawsuit was moved to federal court at the request of the plaintiffs, Heiden said, but was mediated before it could go to trial. Richard O’Meara of Murray, Plumb & Murray joined the ACLU in representing the couple.
City response was limited to the press release from Grondin, who said the decision to settle the case was made “in order to avoid costly litigation.”
Grondin said Walker and Scattaloni were not arrested for filming police.
“While the final decision to arrest the Plaintiffs in this case was not the result of their videotaping at the scene, videotaping scenarios will be used as part of these training sessions,” she said.
Heiden said the arrest was the first of its type he has encountered in Maine.
“Police officers may not like being recorded, but personal recordings are an important check on potential abuses,” he said. “The police get to carry guns, and the public gets to carry cell phones.”