PORTLAND, Maine — A man and woman from Bar Harbor who were arrested last spring after recording video of Portland police each will receive $30,000 as part of a settlement with the city, according to officials.
The ACLU of Maine, which represented Sabatino Scattoloni and Jill Walker in the civil lawsuit filed against Officer Benjamin Noyes Jr., announced the settlement in a prepared statement released Monday morning. The couple accused Noyes in the lawsuit, which was filed last September, of violating their civil right to observe and record police activities. They also said Noyes violated their constitutional right to be free from unlawful arrest.
According to the agreement, copies of which were publicly released Monday by the City of Portland, Scattoloni and Walker each will receive $30,000. The settlement also includes an additional payment of $12,000 to cover the couple’s attorney fees.
ACLU officials have said Walker and Scattoloni were arrested in the early morning hours of May 25, 2014, after they used a smartphone to visually record a group of Portland police officers, including Noyes, who were questioning a woman on the sidewalk of Spring Street in downtown Portland. The couple stood about 25 feet away as they recorded the interaction and did not interfere with the officers’ questioning of the woman, the civil rights group has indicated.
A few minutes later, they were arrested by Noyes on a charge of obstruction of government administration after they refused his order to “get off the sidewalk,” according to the complaint.
Each was taken to the Cumberland County Jail, where they were fingerprinted and booked and then held for more than an hour until they each paid $60 bail. The Cumberland County district attorney’s office later dropped the charges, according to the civil liberties group.
In the ACLU statement, Walker indicated that they sued Noyes as a matter of principle.
“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.”
In a separate statement, city officials said Monday that they agreed to the settlement in order to avoid racking up costly legal bills with prolonged litigation.
As part of the settlement, the Portland Police Department has agreed to use the experience with Walker and Scattoloni “as a training tool to ensure the rights of citizens, including First Amendment rights, will be respected by its police officers in such interactions,” according to the city’s statement.
Though Walker and Scattoloni were not arrested because they were video recording the officers, the training will include scenarios in which officers are being video recorded by citizens, the city officials added.
Contacted by phone Monday afternoon, Scattoloni said he and Walker used his cellphone to record the police because they thought it was odd that so many officers had responded to the incident, in which the woman was suspected of having side-swiped a police cruiser while driving.
He said that, after Noyes told them they would be arrested if they did not move along, they barely had time to respond before they were taken into custody. Walker said, ‘Why?’ and he said ‘We’re just standing here,’ according to Scattoloni.
“There wasn’t time to have any [thoughts] go through our heads,” Scattoloni said. “Literally, two seconds later we were arrested.”
Scattoloni said he still had the video that he and Walker recorded that night, but he declined a request to share it publicly.
The important thing, he said, is that the Portland Police Department has agreed to provide training to its officers about citizens’ rights, including the public right to observe and record police activities that are conducted in public view, as long as the public does not interfere with those activities.
Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, said Monday that the incident should serve as an example for the entire state.
“Police departments across Maine should take steps to train officers to respect the rights of members of the public to observe and record police activities,” Heiden said in Monday’s statement. “Police officers may not like being recorded, but personal recordings are an important check on potential abuses. The police get to carry guns, and the public gets to carry cell phones.”