A Bar Harbor couple is suing a Portland police officer, saying he arrested them without provocation after they recorded a separate police interaction on their cellphones.

The Portland Police Department has opened an internal investigation into the incident but would not comment on the status of that inquiry because it is a personnel matter that is not yet concluded.

The lawsuit, brought with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, says that Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni were charged with obstructing government administration on May 25 in downtown Portland.

The lawsuit says the couple was filming an interaction between five officers and a woman. They were about 25 feet away and were not interfering with the officers, Walker said in an interview Tuesday.

Sgt. Benjamin Noyes, a 17-year veteran of the force, told the couple to move off the sidewalk, and when they asked why, they were arrested and taken to Cumberland County Jail, the lawsuit said.

“I was in shock to be quite frank. We certainly didn’t feel we’d done anything wrong,” Walker said. “If something like that could happen to us, who else is it happening to?”

Noyes’ police report on the incident said the couple was 12 to 15 feet away and said they had been cheering earlier in the incident, an accusation the couple denies.

The couple was released on bail and the district attorney declined to prosecute, according to the complaint.

“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 Tuesday. “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.”

The woman who police were interacting with was charged with drunken driving and two counts of assault on a police officer but charges against her were later dropped

The lawsuit alleges the Bar Harbor couple were arrested without being given their Miranda warnings. The warning is required if a person’s statements are to be used as evidence in court.

The couple was in Portland for what Heiden described as a “weekend getaway” and they were walking back to their hotel on Spring Street when the incident occurred.

The officer “violated Walker and Scattoloni’s First Amendment right to peacefully observe and record the police doing their job in public, as well as their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest,” according to a news release from the ACLU.

“The department takes their allegations very seriously,” said a statement from the city, although it did not respond to the couple’s specific allegations. It said Police Chief Michael Sauschuck opened an internal investigation into the arrest in July when alerted to the incident by the ACLU.

The lawsuit names only Noyes as a defendant, not the city, but the city will pay for an attorney to represent Noyes as called for under the collective bargaining agreement with the Police Superior Officers Benevolent Association.

Records at Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court show that an assistant district attorney with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office indicated on June 26 there would be no further action taken against either of the defendants. The court file does not indicate a reason for the dropped charges.

Prior to that decision, Scattoloni had retained an attorney who entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and demanded a jury trial

Both were released from jail in the early morning of May 25 on $2,500 unsecured bond, meaning they agreed to appear in court or could face a fine of that amount. Next to her signature showing she understood the contents of the bail bond, Walker indicated she signed “under duress.”

The lawsuit was filed in Hancock County Superior Court in Ellsworth. Heiden said it was filed there because that is closer to where the couple lives and they already have been inconvenienced by the incident. The city was notified of the lawsuit Tuesday, but Noyes had not yet been served with it, Heiden said.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Mainehenchman

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