Homeless man seeks $700K from city of Northampton over alleged police misconduct 

  • Eric Matlock is shown last Sept. 26 in Northampton District Court. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2019 10:58:00 PM

Correction: Matlock was acquitted in a Northampton District Court trial in 2018.

NORTHAMPTON — A homeless man whom police pepper-sprayed and arrested on the steps of City Hall in August 2017 is seeking $700,000 in damages from the city and local officials after he was acquitted of several charges related to the case last year.

The preliminary complaint, intended as a presentment of claims on behalf of Eric Matlock, was delivered to Mayor David Narkewicz last week. It alleges police used “excessive force” in the arrest and engaged in a “concerted and coordinated program of arresting (Matlock) repeatedly and charging him and his wife with things that were not crimes,” after the incident at City Hall.

The complaint, prepared by Matlock’s attorney, Dana Goldblatt, also alleges officers targeted Matlock “because he is of African American and indigenous descent.”

The complaint against the city and police department also names as defendants the mayor, Police Chief Jody Kasper, and Police Officers Clay Delano, Brent Dzialo, Andrew Carney, Kenneth Kirchner and Andrew Kohl.

The mayor declined to comment, citing potential or active litigation. Police and Goldblatt also declined to comment.

The city has six months to respond to the complaint before any civil action can be filed in court, according to state law. In addition to seeking $100,000 on each of seven claims, Matlock is also asking for handwritten apologies and admissions of wrongdoing from the individual defendants.

In a Northampton District Court trial in September 2018, Matlock was acquitted of the charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and assault and battery on a police officer stemming from his arrest at City Hall a year earlier.

History of arrests

The complaint alleges officers Dzialo and Delano inappropriately used force against Matlock during the City Hall arrest and then lied about their actions in their reports.

Matlock and his wife, Pamela Matlock, were arrested in subsequent incidents that constituted retaliation, the complaint alleges.

In one case, the complaint says that Kirchner charged Matlock with possession of hash oil, despite it being legal in Massachusetts, a charge that was dismissed by the Northwestern district attorney’s office. The complaint alleges that Carney applied for a disorderly conduct complaint against Matlock because Matlock called him a “bad name.” The office of the clerk magistrate refused to issue it.

The complaint also states that Kohl arrested Pamela Matlock for disorderly conduct after she raised her middle finger at him, a charge that was dismissed.

The complaint alleges that the officers knew that all of these actions were not crimes and that the couple was charged in retaliation for Matlock’s protest at City Hall in August 2017 and its aftermath.

The complaint references the arrest in 2013 of Jonas Correia, in which a Northampton police officer struck and pepper-sprayed him outside a Northampton bar. Correia settled out of court with the city’s insurance company in 2016 for $52,500.

“Members of the Northampton Police Department have a history of attacking and pepper-spraying unarmed and non-violent black men and then falsely accusing them of assault,” the complaint states.

The complaint alleges Narkewicz and Kasper have failed to engage in adequate supervision of the Northampton Police Department.

“By failing to investigate and sanction known wrongdoing by her officers, defendant Kasper failed to correct and to train those officers, and by failing to engage in adequate training and supervision, she displayed a deliberate indifference to the likelihood that officers in the Northampton Police Department, including the named defendants, were committing multiple civil rights violations under color of law against the defendant.”

In a letter attached to the complaint, Goldblatt expressed the hope that the complaint would be settled short of litigation.

“A quick and amicable settlement with an admission to wrongdoing by the city sends a clear message that Northampton, as a community, is committed to do better,” she wrote.

  Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazette n et.com

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