Houlton man sues police for right to inspect surveillance camera documents

3 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine – A Houlton resident has filed a lawsuit against the town’s police department after his Freedom of Access Act request for information regarding the municipality’s surveillance cameras went unanswered. 

Craig Harriman requested access to government records relevant to the installation of 50 surveillance cameras, the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the cameras, and the policies and procedures regarding the cameras’ data, according to the lawsuit.

Harriman has been unable to access, inspect or copy the requested records and by failing to provide them, the Houlton Police Department is in violation of the state FOAA mandate, the lawsuit alleges. 

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Aroostook County Superior Court, seeks to give Harriman access to the documents he has requested. 

In Maine, government records are open to public inspection and a person has the right to inspect any public record within a reasonable period of time after making a request to do so. Harriman filed his FOAA request on April 22.

It all started in January for Harriman when he read a Bangor Daily News story about the police department’s installation of the town surveillance cameras.

“I work in IT for a big defense contractor, so it took me by surprise,” Harriman said on Monday night. “I wanted to find out more about those cameras that the town used $130,000 for the initial purchase. The numbers just don’t add up.”

Harriman initially asked Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca about the camera locations to get more information. DeLuca said they were placed to protect town assets like the town office, parks, police, fire and ambulance, according to Harriman. 

A Houlton resident has sued the Houlton Police Department after Houlton Chief of Police Tim DeLuca allegedly failed to provide documents requested through the state’s freedom of access law. (Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli | Houlton Pioneer Times)

“I figured he would have a policy and procedure about where they are located and I asked, ‘what are the policies and procedures with the data migration, retention,” Harriman said.  “But he just sent that FOAA request back to me and he didn’t provide any paperwork.”

DeLuca did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. 

DeLuca told the BDN in January that the town conducted an in-depth overview of municipal properties and potential vulnerabilities to determine locations for the best camera coverage, including police, fire, EMS, public works, recreation, civic center, airport, parks, gaming fields and cemeteries. 

The $130,000 initial investment in the cameras, originally recommended by former Town Manager Marian Anderson and approved by the town council, was paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funds, DeLuca told the BDN in January.

A search of town council meeting minutes back to 2021 did not indicate a council vote on the cameras. 

In a response to the BDN’s most recent FOAA request in May, Houlton Town Manager Jeremy Smith said the cameras were purchased in March 2022 with ARPA funds and because of that, the town council did not need to vote on the purchase. There were no bids for the project, he said. 

The town has not provided a copy of the sales receipt for the cameras, despite multiple requests by Harriman and the BDN. 

The Bangor Daily News also filed three FOAA requests — two with the police department and one with the town — regarding the purchase of the cameras and their specific locations. In each case the BDN received the response that there are multiple cameras in most of the locations DeLuca had mentioned.

According to the court, the police department has 21 days to respond to the lawsuit; at that time the judge will set a scheduling order, a discovery deadline and conference. 

Correction: The story has been amended to include the Houlton town manager’s full name.