Portland Police Hit With Lawsuit Over “Unlawful” Arrest by ACLU Clients

Police Chief Suschuckk.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck at City Council Chambers.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 2,175)

“The arrest of a Bar Harbor couple for observing and attempting to film an interaction between several police officers and a woman in downtown Portland was illegal and unconstitutional” according to a lawsuit filed today by the ACLU of Maine.  The City of Portland and the Portland Police Department are aware of the lawsuit filed today by Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni regarding their arrest for Obstructing Government Administration on May 25, 2014.  “The department takes their allegations very seriously,” said a separate press release issued by the City in reaction this afternoon.

“The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check on the use of power and force,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine.  “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,

Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni were visiting Portland on May 25 when they observed the encounter between five police officers and one woman. Walker and Scattolino decided to film the incident from a distance, neither speaking to nor interfering with the work of the police officers.  They were then approached by Officer Benjamin Noyes, who forcefully ordered them to get off the sidewalk or face arrest.  When Walker and Scattolini asked the reason they would be arrested, Officer Noyes immediately ordered two other officers to arrest the couple according to the ACLU press release.

Walker and Scattoloni, from Bar Harbor, were searched and interrogated without Miranda warnings and incarcerated until they could meet bail.  They were charged with “Obstructing Government Administration” and obligated to hire a defense attorney.  Ultimately, the district attorney dropped the charges.

“We’ve heard a lot about police mistreating innocent bystanders in other places, but we never thought it would happen to us in Portland, Maine,” said plaintiff Jill Walker.  “We’re filing this case because we think it’s important for the public to be able to witness government officials doing their job and we don’t want what happened to us to happen to other people.”

The ACLU of Maine filed the lawsuit against Officer Noyes, charging that his actions violatedWalker and Scattoloni’s First Amendment right to peacefully observe and record the police doing their job inpublic, as well as their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest.  The City at its expense, will arrange for an attorney to represent Sgt. Noyes in the matter.

The complaint can be found online at: www.aclumaine.org/media/971