As far as police videos go, it was pretty uneventful; a vertical video showing a Pennsylvania police officer trying to resolve a neighborhood parking dispute between a resident and a school teacher who worked nearby.
Nobody was arrested. Nobody was beaten. Nobody was tasered or pepper sprayed. And nobody was shot and killed, which meant that nobody really cared.
The cop barely even raised his voice as he tried to persuade Michael Gratteri to move his motorcycle, which he had parked behind the teacher’s car, preventing her from leaving in order to teach her a lesson not to park in front of his home anymore, leaving no space for his wife to park.
But Ford City police officer Joshua Wilford said he was not aware he was being recorded, even though Gratteri had his cell phone clipped to his shirt and said he did allude to the fact he was recording.
In fact, Wilford said did not realize he had been recording until after Gratteri posted the video to Facebook. And only after somebody told him about it.
Rather than accept the fact that he did not have an expectation of privacy and just leave it at that, Wilford reached out to Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi.
And rather than explain to Wilford that he did not have an expectation of privacy – and therefore no grounds to make an arrest – Andreassi approved felony wiretapping charges against Gratteri.
So more than four weeks after the initial encounter, Wilford returned to Gratteri’s home and arrested him.
But Andreassi then withdrew the charges, knowing he had no case.
So now the ACLU is suing both Wilford and Andreassi on Gratteri’s behalf.
On October 13, 2014, approximately one month after Officer Wilford’s interaction with Mr. Gratteri, Officer Wilford returned to Mr. Gratteri’s home with a Pennsylvania State Trooper to arrest Mr. Gratteri for two felony counts of Interception, Disclosure or Use of Wire, Electronic or Oral Communications [18 Pa.C.S. §5703 (A)(1)] and one count of misdemeanor Disorderly Conduct [18 Pa.C.S. §5503(A)(4)]. 8
Mr. Gratteri was handcuffed and placed in a police vehicle while his son, Michael, watched from across the street.
Michael was emotionally distraught and chased the police car down the street crying while seeing his father being driven away.
Mr. Gratteri was taken to the Magisterial District Court, where the district justice set bail on Mr. Gratteri’s case in the amount of $10,000.
Mr. Gratteri was then placed, handcuffed, in the police vehicle for a second time, but Officer Wilford failed to buckle Mr. Gratteri’s seatbelt.
Officer Wilford drove erratically to the Armstrong County Jail and did not stop to buckle Mr. Gratteri’s seatbelt even after Mr. Gratteri voiced several complaints about not being belted in for safety.
Upon arrival at the Armstrong County Jail, Mr. Gratteri was taken to the holding area around 4:00 p.m. He was strip-searched, fingerprinted, and had photos taken before being placed in a holding cell.
Mr. Gratteri spent approximately seven and a half hours in the Armstrong County Jail on said charges – until about 11:30 p.m. – before his bond was posted and processed and he was released.
“The wiretap law does not apply to public interactions with police,” said Christy Foreman, an attorney who has volunteered to represent Gratteri. The state law makes it a crime to record someone’s voice without their permission.
“The officer’s actions charging Gratteri were intended to punish him for posting the recording on Facebook,” Foreman said.
The ACLU said it is only seeking to recover his legal expenses and to educate those cops and prosecutors who still have not accepted the fact that wiretapping charges do not apply when there is no expectation of privacy.