The city of Portland has paid $72,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a Bar Harbor couple who were arrested and jailed after they filmed police in the Old Port.

Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni spent three hours in jail last May 25 after Scattoloni briefly used a cellphone to film five police officers who were questioning a suspected drunk driver on Spring Street.

Scattoloni at first filmed the officers from a short distance without incident, but when he and Walker moved closer, they were cuffed and charged with obstructing government business. The charges were later dropped.

The settlement follows high-profile cases around the country in which citizen videos of police conduct gained attention and sometimes sparked outrage. The conflicts underscore a developing area of law at a time when police actions are being scrutinized and high-quality cellphone cameras are ubiquitous.

The city didn’t admit fault in the case, and said it was the couple’s refusal to obey an officer’s order, not the filming, that led to their arrest. Nonetheless, the incident will be used to better train Portland officers on the public’s First Amendment right to film police conduct.

“Police officers may not like being recorded, but personal recordings are an important check on potential abuses,” Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said in a written statement. “The police get to carry guns, and the public gets to carry cellphones.”

Walker and Scattoloni each received $6,000 for attorney’s fees and $30,000 from the city, according to a copy of the settlement agreement that the city released in response to a records request from the Portland Press Herald. Heiden said the settlement award in this case is about average for false-arrest lawsuits.

Because Portland is self-insured, it will use taxpayer money to pay the settlement cost, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

How and when the new police training will be implemented wasn’t outlined. A call to Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck was not returned Monday night.

Heiden and others said the issues surrounding the filming of police is an emerging legal question, but a landmark case decided in 2011 by a federal appeals court in New England has provided the clearest legal guidance on when police may be filmed.

The unanimous decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Maine, said police may not use wire-tapping laws that require the consent of all parties being recorded in order to stop filming. The court ruling involving a man who recorded police as they arrested another man on Boston Common held instead that except in a few qualified instances, “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

Since then, officer conduct captured on cellphone video has generated other legal cases. Recently, cellphone footage showing the arrest and subsequent death of a Brooklyn man, Eric Garner, generated national outrage and protests. Another case, in which a California Highway Patrolman appears to repeatedly punch a woman he is pinning to the ground, was investigated by authorities only after the video drew widespread attention on the Internet.

Scattoloni, who is engaged to Walker, said the couple has no plans for the settlement money and will likely save it.

The suit was filed against Benjamin Noyes Jr., the police officer who reportedly ordered the arrests.

Scattoloni said he and Walker had booked a weekend in Portland last May as a brief getaway. While walking back to their hotel around midnight Saturday, May 24, Scattoloni noticed five officers questioning a woman whose car was stopped.

He began filming the interaction, at first from across the street. When he and Walker moved closer, Noyes ordered them to move away.

“You have two seconds to get off this sidewalk or you will be under arrest,” Noyes told them, according to the lawsuit.

The couple then asked why they would be arrested and what law they were breaking, but in a few seconds they were in handcuffs, Scattoloni said.

“We didn’t have any time to think about it,” he said.

The officer hired an outside attorney with the help of the Maine Municipal Association, and in a response in federal court, denied all of the couple’s allegations. A phone number for Noyes could not be found.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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