Trial witnesses recount last year’s arrest on Northampton City Hall steps

  • Northampton Police Officer Brent Dzialo testifies at the Eric Matlock trial in Northampton District Court, Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Eric Matlock watches the jury enter during his trial in Northampton District Court Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Goldblatt, the lawyer for Eric Matlock, questions witness Lyn Simmons during the trial in Northampton District Court Wednesday, September 26, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2018 11:44:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The trial of Eric Matlock, a homeless city man whose arrest and pepper spraying last summer on the steps of City Hall generated outrage and controversy, entered its second day Wednesday in Northampton District Court.

Matlock is charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on a police officer. The charges stem from August 2017, when Matlock staged a protest outside the front entrance of City Hall over the removal of his child by the Department of Children and Families.

Following jury selection and opening statements Tuesday, the prosecution began calling witnesses Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday when the defense will present its first witnesses to the jury.

Matlock was represented by Dana Goldblatt, while the prosecution was represented by Assistant District Attorney Robert Opsitnick. The judge in the case is Patricia Poehler.

One of the jurors was excused in the middle of the proceedings Wednesday, but the trial continued with six remaining jurors.

Three of the witnesses, Timothy Washburn, Amy Zielenski and Susan Wright, told the court they tried to enter City Hall on the day in question, but were blocked by Matlock, who was sitting in front of the front entrance.

“I said, ‘Son, I need to get inside, you can’t block the access to City Hall,’” said Washburn, who subsequently entered the building via the rear entrance.

Washburn and Wright, as well as witness Lyn Simmons, testified that, after police arrived, Matlock held onto the railing on the steps of City Hall as police tried to remove him. They said this occurred after officers lifted him up and attempted to carry him away.

Witness Claudia Cook and Simmons both said that officers tried to protect Matlock’s head as he struggled. They also said Matlock struggled against the officers who tried to remove him.

“There definitely was contact made,” said Simmons.

Simmons said Matlock was pepper-sprayed after a third officer arrived, and that he was pepper-sprayed after being warned three times, after which he let go of the railing and was taken into a police cruiser.

Officer Brent Dzialo, one of the officers who removed Matlock, also gave his narrative of events.

He said Officer Clay Delano, the other responding officer, knew and recognized who Matlock was, although Dzialo did not.

Dzialo said he told Matlock to move away from the door so that people could get in or out, and that he could move to either side of the door and continue his protest.

“He continued to ignore us,” Delano said in later testimony.

Both Dzialo and Delano said they were trying to get Matlock to move because his blocking of the entrance was a safety hazard, and that if he had complied and moved to the side to continue his protest they would have left and gone on their way.

Dzialo said the initial plan was to move Matlock to the right, and that he was warned he would be moved. But Dzialo said that when he and Delano tried to move Matlock, Matlock swung at Delano and missed, escaped from Dzialo’s grip, and then scrambled over to the railing.

Previous witnesses had testified, however, that Matlock latched onto the railing after officers carried him there

“Never,” said Dzialo, when asked by the prosecutor when police carried him to the pole.

This was also denied by Delano, when he gave his testimony. Delano also said that Matlock scrambled to the railing himself, and was not carried there.

Prior to the in-court testimony of the officers at the trial, Goldblatt noted the discrepancy between witness statements and previous officer testimony to the judge when the jury was out.

Dzialo said that by holding onto the pole, Matlock was actively resisting arrest, and that he was verbally warned prior to being pepper-sprayed. However, he said that the pepper spraying occurred before the third officer arrived on-scene. Dzialo also said that Matlock hit him in the forearm.

Both officers said that Matlock was pepper-sprayed prior to the arrival of the third officer on the scene.

That officer, Michael McLaughlin, was also called to testify, and he said that he offered to use his pepper spray but was told it had already been applied to Matlock. Sgt. Patrick Moody also testified, and during cross examination it was revealed that he’d been called to an earlier protest by Matlock in July, where Matlock also blocked the City Hall entrance but was allowed to stay there by order of the mayor, and that the mayor had ordered the doors locked during that protest.

In her cross examination, Goldblatt asked Delano if he was aware that pepper spray could be lethal, to which Delano said he could not speak to that, that it had been used on himself many times, and that he did not know the specifics on if it could kill someone.

“You use pepper spray. And you don’t know what effect it could have on someone with asthma or cardiac disease?” Goldblatt asked.

Delano replied that he didn’t know how it would affect any individual person.

After the prosecution rested, Goldblatt moved for the charges against her client to be dismissed. Judge Poehler, however, denied the motions.

A number of people attended the trial in support of Mattlock and were a notable presence in the courtroom.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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