On May 25, Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni were walking back to their hotel room in Portland, Maine, when they came across a group of five Portland police officers questioning a woman on the sidewalk.
Walker and Scattoloni decided to record the scene “out of concern for the woman (who was unaccompanied) and out of concern for police abuse of power,” according to Zachary Heiden, the pair’s attorney. The couple stood about 25 feet away and “in no way interfered with the police doing their job,” Heiden wrote.
Officer Benjamin Noyes allegedly approached Walker and Scattoloni and said, “You have two seconds to get off this sidewalk or you will be under arrest!” When the two asked why they would be arrested, they were promptly arrested and taken to jail. Walker and Scattoloni were charged with “Obstructing Government Administration,” a charge which the District Attorney declined to prosecute.
Walker and Scattoloni allege that Officer Noyes lied on his police report, and their lawsuit for reasonable damages takes into account that both will have to check “yes” when asked “Have you ever been arrested?” on various job, credit and school applications throughout the rest of their lives.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, and accuses Officer Noyes of violating Walker and Scattoloni’s First Amendment rights, including the right to observe and record police on a public street, and Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure.
“The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check on the use of power and force,” Heiden told the Bangor Daily News. “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.”