Charges have been withdrawn in the case of a Ford City man charged with wiretapping for recording a woman who called police and the officer who responded to resolve a parking dispute at his house.
Michael Gratteri, 48, was charged with two felonies for intercepting communications, plus a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge after he recorded the exchange in September between himself, Ford City police officer Joshua Wilford and an unidentified woman who parked in front of his home at 1124 Fourth Ave.
A preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday was canceled last week when the charges were withdrawn. “I think it was the right thing to do,” said Sara Rose, an attorney with the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I’m certainly glad the charges were withdrawn. That was the right decision, and it saves the county a lot of money by not having to prosecute him.”
Gratteri said he recorded the events to have an accurate account of what took place when he blocked the woman’s car to try to resolve an ongoing parking dispute with her. He said he asked the woman not to park in front of his home numerous times before.
When the woman parked in front of Gratteri’s home Sept. 5, he parked his car in front of hers and his motorcycle in the back so the woman could not move from the space.
When Gratteri refused to move his car, the woman called the police. Gratteri was charged about a month after the incident when Wilford discovered the 15-minute recording posted online.
Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi said the charges were filed because the state’s wiretap statute makes audio recording illegal in situations where the person being recorded would expect conversation to be confidential.
Other legal experts, however, disagreed that Gratteri had violated the law by recording police in front of his home.
“The statute in Pennsylvania courts is very clear that there has to be reasonable expectation of privacy,” Rose said. “I don’t think there was any basis for the wiretapping charges. The police officer was in a public setting.”
Gratteri could file a lawsuit seeking damages for being wrongly arrested, she said.
She added that law enforcement officials are becoming increasingly aware of the public’s right to record police.
“But it doesn’t seem it has trickled down to the officers patrolling the street yet,” Rose said. “Hopefully, Ford City Borough will take this as an opportunity to train their officers so they know the public has a right to record them.”
Ford City Police Department Officer-in-Charge Sgt. John Atherton deferred comment on the case to Andreassi.
Andreassi said he told Wilford to withdraw the charges after a follow-up investigation. The investigation, a joint effort between Andreassi’s office and Ford City police, was based on evidence Gratteri’s attorney, Kittanning-based Bruce Powers, provided.
Powers claimed that Gratteri put up signs notifying Wilford and the woman that he was recording.
While it was not completely clear to Andreassi whether they understood they were being audio and visually recorded, Andreassi told Wilford to withdraw the charges because of the signs’ presence, he said.
Pennsylvania law calls for notice to be given when recording audio in most instances.
“I advised him that, in my opinion, I did not believe charges would be appropriate,” Andreassi said. “There did appear to be some signage and quite honestly, the way the law is in Pennsylvania, then you no longer have that expectation of privacy.”
Gratteri and Powers did not return calls for comment Monday.
Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315 or [email protected].