Man seeks $850K claiming Northampton police targeted him

  • Benjamin Maddison, formerly of Northampton, at Look Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Benjamin Maddison, formerly of Northampton, at Look Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Benjamin Maddison, formerly of Northampton, at Look Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Benjamin Maddison, formerly of Northampton, at Look Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Benjamin Maddison, formerly of Northampton, at Look Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2020 1:55:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Before this year, Benjamin Maddison said he had never been pulled over by the Northampton Police Department. But during the first two months of 2020, he said, he was pulled over three times.

In addition to filing complaints against officers involved in some of these traffic stops for alleged harassment, Maddison — who said he sometimes records on-duty police officers in the area — turned the camera on city cops. Eventually, Maddison says police retaliated against him by using his self-described “cop-watching” as a partial basis to suspend his driver’s license at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The events have resulted in a lawsuit the 24-year-old former Northampton resident wrote and filed on his own behalf in which he accuses city police of targeting him. Maddison, who still lives in the area, is seeking $850,000 in damages and is alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights, as well as defamation and emotional distress.

The lawsuit names Officer David Netto, Police Chief Jody Kasper, Mayor David Narkewicz, and the city as defendants and was moved from Hampshire Superior Court to U.S. District Court in Springfield in June.

In March, Netto submitted to the Registry of Motor Vehicles a request that ultimately led to the suspension of Maddison’s license. In the request to the RMV, Netto alleges that after the three traffic stops in January and February, Maddison sought out officers to film them and “cuss them out,” arguing that such actions put officers and stopped cars in danger.

Maddison — who says he began filming police “wherever, whenever” following an incident when he was 16 in which he said he was falsely arrested in Agawam for trespassing — said in an interview that he hadn’t filmed Northampton police officers until they started pulling him over earlier this year. He alleged that Northampton police began targeting him after he filed complaints against state troopers for speeding on I-91.

NPD policy states a person may record or photograph police in public, unless they engage in actions that jeopardize safety or violate the law. An example of such actions would be persistently trying to engage an officer in conversation, among others.

“I don’t do it to piss (the police) off,” Maddison said of his cop-watching. “I do it as an accountability thing.”

In court filings, Jeffrey J. Trapani, one of the city’s lawyers with the law firm Robinson Donovan P.C., wrote that the defendants “vehemently deny any wrongdoing.” Narkewicz declined to comment. Netto did not return multiple requests for comment. Kasper stated, “We are confident in the Department’s response to concerns and complaints about our services.”

Traffic stops

Maddison said his interactions with city police began in early January after he called 911 on an erratic driver and the police accused him of trying to race the other driver in a “road rage” incident. Later that month, Maddison said, he was pulled over in his sport Audi near his Northampton apartment and given a speeding ticket.

Later in January, Maddison said, he was sitting in his car when he noticed two officers — including the one who gave him a speeding ticket — drive near his home in Northampton. The lawsuit states that one of these officers took photos of his car. Maddison said he followed the cruiser back to the department’s Center Street station and demanded to know why officers were taking photos of his car. He said he left without filing a complaint after Lt. Alan Borowski said he would speak to the officers.

But Borowski, according to Maddison, did make a comment to him about his “issue” with the state police.

“That really kind of pissed me off, because I’m like, ‘These guys are obviously communicating with one another about me,’” he said. “Which led me to believe I was being targeted.”

The lawsuit states that Maddison went back to the police station on Feb. 20 to request documents regarding his speeding ticket and for “an update” from Borowski. When he left the police station, according to the lawsuit, he was pulled over by Netto less than a mile away, and police accused him of having illegal window tints and a sticker obstructing his windshield. The lawsuit states that his car had passed inspection and that Maddison accused the police of harassment, as he had just come from the police station where he was discussing the officer who first pulled him over.

According to police call logs provided by Maddison, during this traffic stop, two other officers arrived as backup and then one pulled over another car for illegal window tints. “I think they were making it look like they weren’t targeting me because I was accusing them of targeting me,” he said.

Maddison said he received a $255 ticket for his tints and a verbal warning for a sticker on his windshield. According to the lawsuit, he went back to the police station and filed internal affairs complaints against Netto and Borowski, as he had reason to believe the two “were perpetuating a cycle of harassment,” he stated.

Borowski, in his own written narrative, said Maddison was yelling about being stopped for his tints and accused him of directing Netto to pull Maddison over.

“I explained to Mr. Maddison that his theory was completely false as I had tried to defuse his anger towards the police (and) not increase it further,” Borowski wrote.

Seven days after Maddison filed the complaint, he claims in the lawsuit, he was pulled over again by Northampton police, this time accused of having a modified exhaust and illegal window tint. After receiving a $55 ticket, Maddison filed complaints against these officers.

Police Capt. Robert Powers was assigned to look into Maddison’s complaints. Powers allegedly told Maddison that he was drawing attention to himself by videotaping officers, which made them feel “‘threatened,’” the lawsuit states. Powers also allegedly told Maddison to “stop recording officers and he won’t be targeted,” according to the lawsuit. Powers did not respond to requests for comment.

A few days later, Maddison claims, he was at home when two officers came by and handed him a copy of his license suspension from the RMV. Maddison was admitted to Cooley Dickinson Hospital the same day “as he was having immense stress and felt the harassment was growing so much that he wanted to commit suicide,” the lawsuit states. Maddison has since regained his driver’s license, but as a person who runs his own transportation business, he could not work for a while.

In April, Powers wrote in an internal affairs report reviewed by the Gazette that the officers under investigation “displayed discretion” while citing Maddison. He wrote that after the final time Maddison was pulled over, Maddison allegedly began initiating more interactions with on-duty officers.

“The frequency and aggressiveness toward individual officers increased and became a safety issue,” Powers wrote.

Powers’ report shows that while the police captain did appear to have spoken with officers regarding the complaints, he also looked at Maddison’s Facebook page and into whether he owned a gun, which Maddison said he does not.

Borowski, having heard concerns about Maddison’s behavior from other officers, conferred with Netto who then sent a request to the RMV, Powers wrote. He denied in his report that officers conspired to enforce traffic violations against Maddison.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2020 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy