Northampton police supervisor flagged violent arrest of Door Dash driver the morning after

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 08-20-2023 7:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The morning after police engaged in a controversial arrest in April, a supervisor flagged it in a command staff meeting and recommended an internal review of the arrest, police documents show.

At the meeting, Police Lt. Brian Letzeisen expressed concerns with the April 4 arrest of Marisol Driouech, 60, of Holyoke, during a late-night traffic stop on King Street, which had been captured on a cruiser’s dash cam system. After reviewing details of the arrest, Police Capt. Victor Caputo recommended an internal review of Officer John Sellew’s conduct under three Police Department policies: the use of force, the requirement of de-escalation, and a discourtesy rule that’s part of the department’s regulations, according to an April 13 memo from Caputo to Police Chief Jody Kasper.

The internal review found that Sellew’s use of force was within policy, but that there was “room for improvement in de-escalating the situation prior to her (Marisol’s) attempt to drive away or making use of other officers on shift (one of which spoke Spanish),” Caputo’s memo states.

“In regard to de-escalating the situation overall, once Ms. Driouech attempted to put the car in gear and leave the stop, there was no practical way to de-escalate the situation and this resulted in her being removed from the car,” Caputo wrote.

Sellew, who can be heard using profanity during the arrest, may have technically violated the department’s discourtesy rule, but the review found that it would be impractical to charge officers with this violation during the course of a use of force event, “due to the rapidly evolving situation.”

The department’s discourtesy policy states: “Discourtesy, rudeness, or insolence to any member of the public, a supervisor, or department personnel. An officer shall be courteous and tactful in the performance of their duties, and shall control their temper, exercising the utmost patience and discretion, even in the face of extreme provocation.”

The day following the arrest, a detective conducted remedial defensive tactics training with Sellew, including de-escalation, report writing, and different approaches that could have been used during the arrest of Driouech, who was stopped for a headlight out on King Street.

According to Caputo’s memo, Sellew, who had no previous discipline, was receptive to the training and willing to attend additional trainings to include “Verbal Judo” and de-escalation techniques for police officers. He wrote that he believed the matter would best be handled with “remedial training consistent with our progressive discipline policy.”

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Driouech, who was working as a DoorDash delivery driver the night of April 4, was pulled over by Sellew for the broken headlight. After an exchange of words, Sellew dragged Driouech out of the vehicle and restrained her to the ground, while another officer, Jonathan Bartlett, arrived on the scene and administered pepper spray.

Driouech was charged with five counts, including assault and battery of a police officer, although the Northwestern district attorney’s office dropped all charges except for having the broken headlight. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing, including in a separate investigation of the incident by Comprehensive Investigations and Consulting (CIC), an outside firm consisting of former police officers and attorneys. The company’s review came after a formal complaint was filed with the department weeks after the arrest.

CIC partner Daniel Bennett, a former first assistant district attorney in Worcester County, conducted interviews with both Sellew and Bartlett as part of the investigation, redacted versions of which were obtained by the Gazette.

When asked by Bennett, Sellew admitted that the stop of Driouech had gotten “salty.”

“I just started trying to take control, but I took control the wrong way by using a little bit of some language that was a little too forceful,” Sellew stated. “Instead of trying to use a little better version of de-escalation.”

Bartlett, in his own interview with Bennett, said the arrest was the first time he had ever used pepper spray as an officer in Massachusetts.

“It seemed like officer Sellew wasn’t successful with compliance techniques,” he said. “So I elected to spray her with [pepper spray] in order to disorient her and effectively place her in handcuffs.”

An injury report from when the arrest first occurred included the extent of the injuries sustained by Driouech, and photographs of her following the arrest were also obtained by the Gazette. They show she sustained injuries to her upper right arm and knee. She was also observed to have a swollen right eye, although the report claims this did not appear to be from the police altercation.

Driouech’s arrest has sparked backlash in the area after the police video footage of the arrest surfaced. Last weekend, a protest of around 100 people took place on the steps of Northampton’s City Hall. The demonstration was organized by the Workers Party of Massachusetts, the Western Massachusetts Communist Party, and the River Valley Party for Socialism and Liberation, and called for the resignation of the officers involved in the arrest, as well as the resignation of Kasper.

John Rivera, a member of the Workers Party and a Holyoke resident, said during the protest that the arrest showed that immigrants and non-native English speakers like Driouech face greater vulnerability to police violence.

“I’ve never felt particularly protected by any police, but this moment solidified what I know now,” he said. “Whatever community the police protect — people like me aren’t a part of it.”

At a Northampton City Council meeting on Thursday, both Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra and Council President Jim Nash criticized the conduct of Sellew and Bartlett during the arrest.

“As mayor, as a resident of this city, as a person, I expect the police to conduct themselves and their work for the city with respect and professionalism,” Sciarra said during the meeting. “Despite the internal and the outside independent investigations lack of finding, the escalation and the extent of the interaction with the driver during the stop should not have happened and I strongly disagree with how it was handled.”

Nash described his reaction to seeing the arrest as a “gut punch,” especially after attempts at police reform in the city since the George Floyd protests in 2020.

“After all of the work and discussion that we’ve gone on gone through over the last three years, we definitely have more work to do,” he said. “Even though the findings didn’t result in disciplinary action, we as a community, and I think I speak for the NPD here, this is not what we expect.”

Driouech is being represented by Northampton attorney Dana Goldblatt, who is seeking damages from the city and a potential lawsuit against the Police Department.

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