Today we filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Bar Harbor couple who were arrested for observing and attempting to film an interaction between several police officers and a woman in downtown Portland.
Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni were visiting Portland in May 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 Scattoloni asked the reason they would be arrested, Officer Noyes immediately ordered two other officers to arrest the couple.
Walker and Scattoloni 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.
The ACLU of Maine filed the lawsuit against Officer Noyes, charging that his actions 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.
As our legal director, Zach Heiden, said in a press release today:
The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check on the use of power and force. 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.
It's well established that the publlic has the right to observe and videotape the police, as long as they aren't interfering with their work: in 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the arrest of a Massachusetts man for observing and videotaping the police violated his First and Fourth amendment rights, in a case brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts.
In fact, all across the country ACLU affiliates are challenging excessive policing tactics and the crackdown on people exercising their right to observe and record the police. Just yesterday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit challenging excessive force against a woman recording the police. And last month, the ACLU of Missouri challenged the Ferguson police department's policy of ordering members of the media and public to stop recording police in public.
Do you know your rights when it comes to police encounters? We've put together a collection of resources so you can. Go here to get up to speed.