Holyoke woman seeks damages over forcible arrest

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 09-14-2023 6:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A lawyer representing a Holyoke woman whose arrest by Northampton police sparked backlash has officially filed a claim for damages with the city, seeking monetary compensation on behalf of her client.

Dana Goldblatt, an attorney based in Northampton, filed the claim on behalf of Marisol Driouech, 60, based on an incident that occurred late at night on April 4 when she was stopped for having a headlight out on King Street by Northampton Police Officer John Sellew. In dashcam video footage of the incident, Sellew can be seen opening the car door and forcibly pulling Driouech out of her vehicle before restraining her on the ground.

A second officer, Jonathan Bartlett, arrived on the scene and assisted in restraining Driouech while administering pepper spray.

Following the incident, the Northampton Police Department immediately flagged the arrest and recommended an internal review of the officers involved. While a later review by an outside firm in June cleared Officers Sellew and Bartlett of any wrongdoing, both Police Chief Jody Kasper and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra have publicly criticized both officers’ handling of the arrest.

In the letter to the city, Goldblatt said Driouech is raising the claims of negligent supervision, training, investigation and failure to discipline, as well as negligent use of force. Goldblatt also states that Driouech sustained bruising and swelling of her face, arms, legs, back and chest as a result of the incident, as well as dizziness and an inability to work.

“He [Sellew] responded with violence. He called for backup, then dragged her from the car and threw her to the ground while shouting at her to submit and stop resisting,” Goldblatt wrote in the letter. “The Office of the District Attorney refused to prosecute [Driouech], but while the charges were pending Ms. Driouech was terrified by the prospect of a felony conviction and prison sentence.”

Goldblatt further alleges in the letter that the city’s Police Department has a history of discrimination against Hispanic individuals, citing a 2014 federal lawsuit that listed as a defendant now-retired Police Capt. Robert Powers, who allegedly made racist remarks against Hispanics when he was a lieutenant and an instructor at Western Massachusetts Regional Police Academy.

“Police in Northampton remain more likely to use greater force on non-white individuals during stops and arrests,” Goldblatt wrote. “The pattern and practice by officers of intentionally stopping and using force disproportionately against Hispanic individuals has long been known by the City, but no corrective action has ever been taken to correct the problem.”

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Now that the claim has been presented, the city has six months to respond to the claim. Goldblatt had previously indicated to the Gazette that if the two parties could not agree on compensation from the incident, then she would file a lawsuit on behalf of Driouech against the city.

Goldblatt is also currently suing the city on behalf of another client, Eric Matlock, who was pepper-sprayed by police in 2017.

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