Resident handcuffed while checking drilling at Shutesbury library site sues


Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2023 9:05 AM

SHUTESBURY — A resident concerned with potential contamination on the 22-acre site of a new town library is filing a complaint in U.S. District Court in Springfield seeking unspecified damages contending a violation of his civil rights, including free speech and bodily integrity, during recent interactions he had with the police chief and library director on the property.

Michael Hootstein, a hydrogeologist who has lived in town for 24 years, said he is asking for a jury trial, contending that his free speech and bodily integrity were infringed on in April when he was on a portion of the 66 Leverett Road site, also known as Lot O-32. Hootstein is also claiming unreasonable police seizure and excessive force under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as a violation of his rights under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.

The filing comes after an April 18 incident in which he was on the property and Police Chief Kristin Burgess and Officer Devon Pelletier responded at what he believes was the request of Library Director Mary Anne Antonellis.

While construction has not begun on the new $6.4 million library, test pits and other work are underway to determine what sorts of contaminants are at the location. The Department of Environmental Protection informed the town in February that the site was formerly used by the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense, and included a radio antenna and an underground storage tank.

Now classified a Tier 1 site, the property is already going through the comprehensive phased Massachusetts Contingency Plan cleanup process. Fuss & O’Neill Inc., as the environmental consultants, is undertaking response actions for the town.

A draft Public Involvement Plan under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan states that “the disposal site is not subject to ongoing immediate response actions, and no imminent hazards, critical exposure pathways, or conditions of substantial release migration” and “is not located within a current or potential drinking water source area, but is within 500 feet of one or more private residential wells.”

The library is supposed to be built on a section of the site farthest away from any pollutants, with the project having received overwhelming support at Town Meeting last spring and then being approved at a subsequent ballot vote. When complete, the library will replace the aging and outdated M.N. Spear Memorial Library on the town green, a building that has no running water.

According to the lawsuit, the troubles for Hootstein began when he noticed a Fuss & O’Neill truck at the site and approached employees who were putting in new monitoring wells. Hootstein snapped several photographs of this work.

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But after doing so, the police chief and officer showed up, Hootstein claims at the request of Antonellis, to learn what he was doing. Last fall, the Select Board expressed concern about people entering the site, comparing it to a work zone and, to promote safety, declared that the site would be considered off limits to non-authorized people.

The lawsuit states, “Police Chief Burgess physically blocked plaintiff’s path while Officer Pelletier stood close off to the side ready to assist in plaintiff’s take down. Plaintiff was afraid, shaken and chilled to the bone, and asked Chief Burgess why she was detaining him in the middle of the woods on town-owned property open to the public.”

Hootstein also notes being terrified when the chief put a “shoulder hold” on him, and he was further intimidated when Burgess “patted her gun, taser and handcuffs holstered at her side” and, after a period of time, put handcuffs on him, causing him to have a panic attack and to fall to his knees. “All the plaintiff could do to release the emotional distress, anguish and fear he felt inside was to allow his tears to flow in grief.”

Town officials didn’t immediately respond to request for comment about the lawsuit.

Hootstein is among several residents who have formed the Lot O-32 Remediation Oversight Group and appealed to town officials to learn more about the conditions on the property. He has also been in the 21E Public Involvement Plan Group, a citizens group that is responding to the town’s draft Public Involvement Plan.